DENVER -- In the first stop on a back-to-back set, the Rangers (8-2-2) hope to extend their three-game winning streak but may skate Friday without forward Rick Nash, who injured his back during practice Thursday and is considered day-to-day.
Nash's back "locked up" during a shooting drill. He left the ice and was receiving treatment to loosen his back.
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Nash's issue, according to head coach Alain Vigneault, appears to be related to the "SI joint", or sacroiliac joint, which is at the bottom of the spine, supported by ligaments. The pain, similar to sciatica, is usually centered there and can radiate down the legs. It can be treated with anesthetic injections.
Vigneault is expected to update Nash's status later this evening. Nash, 31, who has a goal and five assists, suffered a similar setback two years ago and missed several days. It also is unclear whether he will be available against the Coyotes in Phoenix on Saturday.
Nash has played well against the Avalanche, with six goals and seven assists in the last 13 games. If Nash cannot go, it is expected that Emerson Etem, acquired from the Ducks in exchange for Carl Hagelin last summer, will play his fourth game and first on the top line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello.
Another change in the top six is expected, regardless of whether Nash plays Friday against the Avalanche (4-8-1 after a loss in Arizona on Thursday).
Based on his 16 minutes of play against the Capitals on Tuesday -- and the subpar play of Jesper Fast -- J.T. Miller will be elevated to the right side of the second line for the game. Miller, 22, rejoins center Derek Stepan and left wing Chris Kreider, familiar linemates from last year's playoffs when Miller had eight points in 19 games. Fast drops to the fourth line.
The coaches love Miller's aggressiveness, forechecking and physical play, but want him to make better decisions defensively.
"There's mistakes, but everybody makes mistakes." Miller said Thursday. "I just want to go out and have a good game, not think about anything bad, to be honest with you. I just want to go play and play hard. I probably played some of my better games in the beginning of the season. I think offensively I can be much better, the last six or seven games I haven't had many good, prime chances. I just think I can be more effective with the puck sometimes."
And there's one other lineup issue: Whether veteran defenseman Dan Boyle, 39, will be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game and rookie Dylan McIlrath steps in again on the third pair.
If Boyle plays Friday, there's a chance McIlrath will play against the Coyotes on Saturday because Vigneault indicated Thursday that he'd like to limit Boyle's time in back-to-back games or when there are three games in four nights. Boyle was not part of the power-play drills on Thursday during practice at the University of Denver, indicating that his role is being reduced.
In goal, Henrik Lundqvist (6-2-2, 1.88 GAA, .943 save percentage) makes his 11th start. Backup Reto Berra (1-2-0, 1.79, .944) starts for Colorado ... In their last visit to Pepsi Center, on Feb. 12, the Rangers won 6-3 ... Kreider and Miller will join the power-play units. Note the man-advantage stats: Colorado is 10-for-54 (18.5 percent), the Blueshirts are 4-for-29 (13.8 percent) ... On the penalty kill, the Rangers rank fifth in the league and have killed 19 straight. The Avalanche rank 12th at 83 percent ... Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Rangers are 2-0-2 against the Avalanche ... The Rangers have a plus-13 goal differential for the season; the Avs are minus-5 ... Nathan MacKinnon (5-9-14), Jarome Iginla (6-5-11) and Gabriel Landeskog (5-6-11) are the points leaders for Colorado.