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Rangers need to keep gaining points

New York Rangers left wing Rick Nash celebrates

New York Rangers left wing Rick Nash celebrates his goal with center Derick Brassard against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second period of an NHL game at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Six games before the halfway point of the season, the Rangers already appear to be making the transition to playoff mode. Points are at a premium. Despite a 9-1 run, they haven't gained much ground in the Metropolitan Division as January begins.

On Dec. 7, the Rangers were 11-10-4, leaving them 12 behind the Penguins and Islanders and two behind the Capitals.

After Friday night's games, the Rangers (20-11-4) are nine points behind the Penguins and Islanders and one behind the Capitals (the Blueshirts have at least two games in hand on each team).

Only the top three division finishers are guaranteed postseason berths. The Rangers have a tenuous hold on the last of two Eastern Conference wild-card spots. The Leafs (45 points), who are in the Atlantic Division, hold the other but have played four more games than the Rangers.

"Points are huge," Rick Nash said after Friday's practice. "Everyone in our division's winning every night, it seems."

The Sabres (14-22-3) visit the Garden Saturday night. "The team doesn't matter," Derek Stepan said. "No matter where they are in the standings, two points are so important."

"There's a lot of teams who expect to be in the playoffs," Henrik Lundqvist said. "I think it's a tight race until the end. You're really going to have to earn it."

Lundqvist (8-1-0, 1.76 GAA, .930 save percentage in his last nine starts) is expected to start against Buffalo before the Rangers head to California for a three-game trip.Notes & quotes: Second-pair defensemen Dan Boyle and Marc Staal each took a personal day Friday but coach Alain Vigneault expected both to play against Buffalo. Forward Tanner Glass skated as a sixth defenseman, a sign that he might be a healthy scratch for a second straight game . . . Vigneault said no decision has been made on rookie Anthony Duclair, 19, who was loaned to Team Canada for the World Junior Championship, which ends Monday. He can be recalled or reassigned to his junior team, the Quebec Remparts.

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