DENVER - The loss of top defenseman Ryan McDonagh appears to be short-term, which is a relief for the Rangers, but in the final game of a four-city Western trip Thursday night, they were prepared to patch and fill on defense against the potent Avalanche, who have scored 230 goals, the seventh-most in the NHL.
"Obviously, his 25-plus minutes a game are big minutes against big lines and on the power play and penalty killing, so we're going to try and spread those minutes around," coach Alain Vigneault said after Thursday morning's skate. "I think there will be a lot of duos you might see tonight. Johnny [Moore] hasn't played for a while and we've got four righthanded 'D's, so we'll probably mix and match a little bit. We know they've got two really high-skilled offensive lines."
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McDonagh, who left Vancouver with his left arm in a sling after a high hit into the glass from Canucks forward Alex Burrows with 44 seconds left in regulation, was briefly at the rink for treatment and returned to watch the game.
"He's day-to-day . . . I don't think it's going to be very long," Vigneault said.
But the Blueshirts were without McDonagh against the Avalanche, who had already cracked the century mark in points, with 102, and were 25-11-3 at home. The Rangers (43-30-4, 90 points) have won a franchise-record 25 games away from Madison Square Garden.
Regardless of Thursday night's outcome, the Rangers, who were 8-2-0 in their last 10, could not clinch a playoff berth. They could, however, move closer with one or two points. The Washington Capitals, who have 81 points and can only accumulate 93 points in their final six games, were idle. They visit the Islanders Saturday night. The Rangers host the Senators Saturday.
Henrik Lundqvist (31-23-4) was back in net after a terrific 38-save effort in Vancouver on Tuesday. Semyon Varlamov (38-14-5) was between the pipes for Colorado.
Lundqvist and the blue liners would be keys, particularly with Moore just returning after missing the last six games. He sustained a concussion in Columbus on March 21. And at least one righthanded defenseman would be departing from his comfort zone.
"I'm open for anything if that's what has to be done," said Anton Stralman, a righty who initially was paired with Marc Staal. "It's still the same game. In some situations, you have a little bit of an advantage; most situations it's a little bit of a disadvantage, with the angles, and usually you get the puck on your backhand, so it takes a little bit of time."
Moore practiced in McDonagh's spot on the top pair with Dan Girardi and was expected to get some minutes at the point on the power play.
"I'm 100 percent, ready to go," Moore said. "It's tough to lose a guy like Mac, but Girardi has been around a long time; I just have to make sure I'm staying on the same page, talking to him and not getting in his way."
Vigneault, who has deployed Moore mostly on the third pair for 69 games, said, "I think the more he plays, the more he's going to understand the game, and the better his decision process with and without the puck. He's got a great set of tools."
A 3-1 trip rather than 2-2 would be significant, Stralman said. "We're not done yet, we have to get the points," he said. "This is a game to prove we can finish off this trip with a good character win and take that confidence home with us."