GREENBURGH, N.Y. - A victory over the Canadiens Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden would move the Rangers into a neighborhood they haven't visited since Feb. 3: a playoff spot.
At 31-29-9, the Rangers, who have drifted from ninth to 11th place in the Eastern Conference for the last 12 games, are a point behind the fading, eighth-place Bruins, who lost, 3-2, to the Devils last night and play the Rangers on Sunday afternoon in Boston.
The Rangers are 2-0-2 in the last four games at the Garden, including a 3-1 victory over the Flyers on Sunday. But Montreal, according to Rangers coach John Tortorella, is quicker than Philadelphia throughout the lineup and has a hot goaltender in Jaroslav Halak, who has won five in a row and eight of his last 10 since supplanting Carey Price as the No. 1 goalie.
The most critical decision for Tortorella to make in the final 13 games of the regular season is this: How long to ride Henrik Lundqvist, who is 1-1-1 with a 4.43 GAA this season against the Canadiens, who are 35-29-6 (76 points).
Tortorella did concede Monday that Lundqvist, who is 3-1-2 with a 2.14 GAA in his last six home games, will play "the majority" and sounded as if Alex Auld will get a couple of starts.
"Henrik's going to play. I'm not looking too far ahead," Tortorella said. "I think we've been really good as far as the rest with the hockey club and rest with Hank. He didn't play a whole bunch in the Olympics. Selfishly for the New York Rangers, that was a good thing. He's going to play the majority. Is he going to play all? I don't know."
With three sets of back-to-back games - March 24-25 (Islanders, at Devils); April 2-3 (at Tampa, at Florida); April 6-7 (at Buffalo, at Toronto) - Auld may start against St. Louis at home Thursday and probably in one of the two in Florida.
Notes & quotes: The Canadiens rank first in the NHL on the power play on the road (30.1 percent); the Rangers are second at home (23.9 percent). On the penalty kill, the teams are dead even: 83.3 percent for the Rangers at home and the Canadiens on the road . . . Enver Lisin and Aaron Voros are the likely scratches Tuesday . . . Marian Gaborik is 2-3-5 in the last three games against Montreal.