Rangers hot as they begin second half
BUFFALO -- For the Rangers, the second half of the 48-game regular season begins on a high note Tuesday night: They have won five of the last six games, climbed into a postseason berth with games in hand, and will play 11 of the final 24 games against teams currently out of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
But nothing is guaranteed in this lockout-interrupted season; injuries still can play a significant role.
For example, the Rangers say there is no timetable for Marc Staal's return. The defenseman is on injured reserve and did not make the trip, which begins with Tuesday night's game against the Sabres, continues against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday and concludes with a matinee in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Staal was struck near the right eye by a deflected shot against the Flyers last Tuesday.
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Forward Arron Asham, who has missed the last nine games with back spasms, is on the trip, as is Roman Hamrlik, the defenseman claimed off waivers Wednesday who sat out the Capitals game on Sunday because John Tortorella said he was not in game shape.
Regardless of the lineup, the Rangers will have to be road warriors to nail down a playoff spot before the season ends on April 27. Fifteen of the second-half games are away from home. With the 4-1 win in Washington, the Rangers are 4-4-1 on the road; they were 24-12-5 last season. Only the Bruins and Flyers (25) won more.
Henrik Lundqvist, who is expected to start against the Sabres (9-14-3, 14th place), will handle the bulk of the time in net during the second half. Judging by the first half, Martin Biron (2-1-1) could play four or more times; the Rangers still have three back-to-backs remaining, including one right after this trip ends, against Carolina at MSG on Monday and against the Devils in Newark next Tuesday.
Notes & quotes: Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta will not dress Tuesday night. He is still serving a five-game suspension for his boarding-from-behind of Brad Richards on March 3 . . . Defenseman Michael Del Zotto is one point from 100 in his career.