Dan Girardi missed his second game last night with a rib injury but will be ready to play Tuesday against the Penguins, the Rangers' first game after the All-Star break. Tuesday also remains the target date for Ryan Callahan's return. Callahan, out since Dec. 15 with a broken hand, will continue to train during the break. "I think he's the closest one," coach John Tortorella said.

Asked who might be the next returnee, Tortorella said: "Don't count out Dubi." Brandon Dubinsky, who has missed the last five games with a stress fracture of the left fibula, was initially estimated to be out up to a month.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Tough road ahead

After the All-Star break, the Rangers have 30 games remaining, 16 against teams currently in the playoffs. They face Philadelphia and Pittsburgh three times, Montreal, Boston and Atlanta twice, and Washington, Tampa, Detroit and Anaheim once.

There are 16 games at home and 14 on the road, with the final three games at Madison Square Garden. February, when several injured forwards - Callahan, Dubinsky, Erik Christensen (knee), Ruslan Fedotenko - are expected back, is a lighter month, with 12 games. There are 14 games in March.If form holds, Martin Biron (8-4) will play six or seven of those games, likely in some of the remaining four back-to-backs. Checking the talent

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Several young players will be returned to the Connecticut Whale to play two games this weekend, although Tortorella wanted to evaluate players during last night's game. The likely suspects: Brodie Dupont, Evgeny Grachev, Michael Del Zotto and perhaps Chad Kolarik. The flood of injuries, Tortorella said, "certainly gives us a chance to look at more people than we thought we would be able to by this time, and gives them more experience quicker than we thought they'd get.''