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Thursday, March 3, 2011
W2W4: Wild vs. Rangers

By Mike Hume

The Rangers take on the Minnesota Wild tonight at the Garden. With both teams desperate for points in the standings, the contest promises to be an impassioned one. Here are three factors to watch for when the puck drops.

Hungry? Why Wait?

The Rangers are coming off a loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Likewise, the Wild have dropped a pair, including a Wednesday night tilt on Long Island against the New York Islanders. Both teams should be craving this win and that should (should) translate into a ton of energy on the ice Thursday night. That said, the Rangers came out pretty sluggish to start Tuesday night’s contest with Buffalo and failed to establish their forecheck early. That can’t happen again tonight and I’m sure both John Tortorella and his players will emphasize an early burst.

Dinged Up

Andrew Gross reported from practice Wednesday that Marian Gaborik would remain out with a concussion, though he did skate before the session. However, Marc Staal and Ruslan Fedotenko might be ready to return to the lineup, which would certainly be a big lift. The Wild are also dealing with some key injuries. Star center Mikko Koivu (finger) and Guillaume Latendresse (groin/hips). Neither is expected to suit up Thursday night.

Rookie Wall?

The mystical and metaphorical rookie wall should, in theory, be looming before Derek Stepan these days, but at the start of this homestand he had recorded six points in his previous eight games. Since then, he’s been shutout … but only a remarkable save by Ryan Miller made this the case. Stepan and linemate Mats Zuccarello have developed some sensational scoring chances lately, but just haven’t converted. They were paired with Wojtek Wolski at practice yesterday, per Gross, and Thursday would certainly be an apt time for them to breakthrough.