Jets-Rangers Preview

The Associated Press

Coach John Tortorella claims the New York Rangers don't care about the standings. Their lofty position is probably why they feel that way.

The Winnipeg Jets have no such luxury.

The Rangers have a chance to enter the All-Star break atop the Eastern Conference after they face the sputtering Jets at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

New York (30-12-4) is tied with Boston for first in the East, while also holding a three-point edge on second-place Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division lead.

"We don't care about first place, the division, the conference," said Tortorella, who will be one of the coaches at Sunday's All-Star game in Ottawa. "We are just trying to play the right way."

The Rangers haven't been doing that consistently lately, splitting their last six games. However, they turned in perhaps their most impressive performance of that stretch Saturday, beating the Bruins 3-2 on the road after Marian Gaborik scored with 3.6 seconds left in overtime.

Gaborik is one of the main reasons New York is atop the standings, leading the team with 25 goals - two of them coming Saturday after he'd totaled just one in his previous 11 games.

He hasn't scored in his last four home games, but had two goals and assisted on another by Derek Stepan in a 3-0 win over the Jets (22-21-6) on Nov. 6.

One of three Rangers All-Stars along with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and defenseman Dan Girardi, Gaborik has 10 goals and nine assists in 15 career games against the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise.

The Rangers have beaten the Jets in both meetings this season, despite the fact Brad Richards hasn't had a point in either game.

The center, third on New York with 32 points, assisted on Gaborik's game-winner against Boston, but that's his only point in his last seven contests.

"He's such a student of the game, and cares about it and what he's trying to do to help the hockey club that it screws him up," Tortorella said of Richards. "Again, he assesses his game. He's still learning our concept, our team concept as far as how we do things defensively. If he isn't helping a hockey club - or feels he isn't - it buries him because it's constantly on his mind.

"He wants to be that guy to make the team go."

The Rangers are expected to have defenseman Ryan McDonagh back in the lineup after a scare Saturday. He was hit from behind by the Bruins' Andrew Ference and crashed into the boards, resulting in the power play that led to Gaborik's goal.

"There's nothing seriously injured or anything like that," McDonagh said. "I didn't have any X-rays after the hit. It was more just a lot of aches and pains and a little (shaken) up. I didn't have my wind from the hit, so I had to work to catch my breath. Real fortunate that nothing serious (happened)."

The Jets are 3-7-1 in their last 11 games and are 10th in the East, three points out of playoff position.

The struggles continued Monday, as Winnipeg gave up two first-period goals en route to a 2-1 loss at Carolina.

Kyle Wellwood, who scored his ninth goal of the season, has been one of the Jets' bright spots recently, with one goal and six assists during a five-game point streak.

Nik Antropov assisted on Wellwood's tally Monday, giving him three goals and three assists during a four-game point streak of his own. Antropov scored Winnipeg's lone goal in a 2-1 home loss to the Rangers on Oct. 24.

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