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Monday, March 21, 2011
Health questions facing Rangers

By Mike Hume

Now sitting six-points ahead of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes and five points back of the sixth-place Montreal Canadiens the Rangers are in an interesting position. They seem unlikely to catch the Canadiens, but they seem similarly unlikely to be caught by the Canes ... provided they keep winning.

Helping that cause will be the two fairly soft opponents over the Blueshirts' next two games -- the Florida Panthers (Tuesday) and the Ottawa Senators (Thursday).

Capture four more points and the Rangers would likely project as near playoff locks with just seven games remaining on their schedule. So, with Marc Staal nursing an undisclosed injury that sidelined him for Sunday's game against Pittsburgh and Ryan McDonagh apparently shaken following a Matt Cooke elbow (both D-men missed practice Monday, via Andrew Gross) the question the Rangers face is this: If Staal and McDonagh can play, but won't be 100-percent, do you sit them or play them?

Likewise, Henrik Lundqvist has been battling a stiff neck while playing every game since Feb. 11. Do the Rangers and head coach John Tortorella try to sneak in some rest for the starting stopper against lesser foes? Or does he press his star into action again and go for the kill?

While Staal's situations seems murkier, it sounds like McDonagh will be able to play Tuesday night. As will Lundqvist.

Given his approach to past injuries, I would guess that if McDonagh and Lundqvist tell Tortorella they can go, then they'll be in the lineup for sure. Heck, remember he played Marian Gaborik against the Flyers in the sniper's first game back from a concussion. I think there's an expectation that the players be able to handle their own situations and Tortorella has never been one for special treatment. I can't imagine it will be any different in the stretch drive.

I'm betting the Blueshirts won't rest anyone -- unless they have to, such as with Staal -- until they've nailed down a playoff berth. So the sooner they can do that, the better.

If they do make the playoffs, it would sure help if the Rangers still had something left in the tank.