The New York Rangers were forced to the brink of first-round elimination in last season's playoffs by the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators, and they're expecting to get another tough challenge in the first meeting of 2013 - especially with Rick Nash out again.
Nash will miss his second straight game Thursday night as New York visits an Ottawa team on a bit of a roll despite injury problems of its own.
The Rangers finished 2011-12 with the most points in the Eastern Conference, but they trailed the Senators 3-2 in their playoff series before winning a pair of one-goal games to advance.
Nash had not been acquired from Columbus yet, and he won't be around for this matchup either as he nurses an undisclosed injury. He also missed Tuesday's 3-1 home loss to Montreal, but coach John Tortorella refuses to use an injury to a key player as an excuse for New York (8-6-1) not meeting expectations.
"Everybody has injuries, but you just have to play," Tortorella said. "Nash is a big part of our team and has been a very good player, but he's out. We can't just have one line going.
"We need to get more out of our other guys more consistently - with Nash out or not."
Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin, who are Nash's usual linemates, each assisted on Anton Stralman's goal Tuesday, and Tortorella has lauded their solid play of late - especially during the team's 4-0-1 stretch prior to the latest defeat.
Hagelin has five goals and three assists during a five-game point streak, but Tortorella said getting production from only a couple players won't be enough.
"I still don't think we have enough of our guys playing consistently with pace," Tortorella said. "Quite honestly I think we're behind in our consistency."
Ottawa is dealing with its own injury problems, playing without forward Jason Spezza and reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, who had season-ending surgery to repair a torn Achilles suffered Feb. 13.
The Senators (9-6-2), though, have won their last two after beating the New York Islanders 3-1 on Tuesday.
"They're playing well," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who is 4-1-0 with a 1.58 goals-against average over his last five starts and should be in net Thursday. "They're missing some key guys but they have other guys stepping up right now and getting the job done."
Craig Anderson has been on top of his game, leading the NHL with a 1.57 GAA after making 37 saves Tuesday. He has a 1.92 GAA in 18 career starts versus the Rangers, including last year's playoffs.
"Everyone's kind of chipping in," Anderson said. "It's just my job to stop the puck, doesn't matter how many."
Coach Paul MacLean expects Thursday to be another tough battle as well, no matter who suits up for New York. The Rangers have won eight of the last 10 meetings in Ottawa, including the playoffs.
"I think it's a pretty important game," MacLean said. "There's a chance for a bit of a rivalry there. We're looking forward to it.
"It's a great opportunity to play against a team that put us out of the playoffs and we expect it to be a great game. They still have (Marian) Gaborik, they still have Lundqvist; they're going to be a handful."
Lundqvist had a 1.70 GAA in last year's playoff series and has a 1.63 GAA in 14 career starts at Ottawa.
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