By Tom Castro
Stats Senior Editor
NY Rangers (36-26-8) at Montreal (36-25-8), 7:30 p.m. EDT
MONTREAL (AP) -- Thanks to agitating play and unexpected offense
from Sean Avery, the New York Rangers have been making a push
for the playoffs. A victory over the Montreal Canadiens could
prove critical to that goal.
Avery and the Rangers hope to move into a tie for fifth place in
the Eastern Conference when they meet the Canadiens at the Bell
Centre on Tuesday night.
After a fast start, the Rangers have endured a mostly
disappointing and inconsistent season and had been dropping in
the conference standings. That was before the return of Avery,
the abrasive forward who came back to the Rangers early this
month after his failed stint with Dallas.
Re-acquired to add badly needed energy and grit, Avery has
provided that along with surprising offense. He scored two
power-play goals and drew a pair of penalties to lead the
Rangers to a 4-1 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday - their
fourth win in six games since his return and fifth in seven
Avery has scored in three straight games and has four goals in
seven contests since rejoining New York.
"The first couple of games I was just so nervous, kind of
playing a little too hard," said Avery, who has never scored
more than 18 goals in a season. "I'm just trying to slow it
down, think about the plays and where they're going to end up.
"I feel good as far as just being happy that I'm out playing,
and trying to play hard and help the team win. I've gotten some
good bounces and I've gotten some good passes. It's tough to
explain. Obviously, the team playing better is something that
helps a lot."
The Rangers briefly fell out of playoff position last week for
the first time this season but have since moved into a tie with
Montreal for the sixth spot. Two points ahead in fifth is
Pittsburgh, and the Flyers are four points up on New York in
The Rangers may have to fix their power play if they want to
keep the pressure on those teams, and Avery has helped boost
that anemic unit - at least temporarily. They scored three
power-play goals Sunday for just the second time this season and
had failed on 14 straight man-advantage chances before Avery
broke the drought.
New York will be facing a Montreal team that has beaten it twice
this season by a combined 12-5 score. Henrik Lundqvist started
both games for the Rangers, and he's lost three straight starts
to the Canadiens, allowing 16 goals.
While Montreal has dominated the season series, the Canadiens
have dropped two straight and four of six since a four-game
winning streak. They followed a 3-2 overtime loss to the woeful
New York Islanders on Thursday with a 3-1 defeat to New Jersey
on Saturday, falling to 1-1-1 since general manager Bob Gainey
took over behind the bench after firing coach Guy Carbonneau.
The Canadiens are closing a four-game homestand and play six of
their next seven at home, where they're 21-7-5 this season.
"To stay with our competition, we'll need to pick up more than
three points next week," Gainey said.
Montreal backup Jaroslav Halak stopped 45 shots Saturday but
fell victim to his team's offensive troubles. The Canadiens have
four goals in their last four defeats.
Halak stopped 36 shots to defeat the Rangers on January 7, but
Carey Price should be back in net for Montreal on Tuesday. He
made 18 saves in the December 4 win over New York.