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Brashear's role with Rangers is unclear

Donald Brashear, who signed a two-year, $2.8-million deal with the Rangers in the offseason, has been a shadow of his former self.

In his 17th season, the burly Brashear has one assist and is a minus-8 in 35 games. Not that anyone expected him to score, but the problem has been his role. Exactly what is it?

Earlier this season, Brashear was a target of Garden fans who recalled his blindside hit that broke bones in former Rangers center Blair Betts' face in the playoffs against the Capitals last season.

Brashear has missed nine games with hand and rib injuries, has shied away from scraps and now can't win a decision even when he drops the gloves.

Last night, Brashear - playing in his sixth straight game on the fourth line while Enver Lisin and Aaron Voros were healthy scratches - squared off twice in the first period with Matt Carkner.

The 6-4 Carkner, who is nine years younger, engaged him in a brief wrestling match along the boards at 3:23. At 11:44, Brashear knocked off Carkner's helmet with three left jabs, but Carkner's right sent him down to the ice.

"He was just holding on," Carkner said.

Neither bout seemed to spark Brashear's teammates.

Johnson on Torts' radar

Rookie goaltender Chad Johnson, who stopped 30 of 31 shots in a win Jan. 7 over Atlanta, will start at home at some point, coach John Tortorella said. "Eventually he will get a home game here,'' he said, "[but] I don't think in the near future."

Blue notes

With one penalty kill, the Rangers are on a 21-for-21 streak . . . Henrik Lundqvist had stopped 81 consecutive shots before Campoli's goal . . . Long Islander John Amirante, recovered from a bout with pneumonia, returned and sang both the Canadian and U.S. national anthems.

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