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Avery, Rangers hope to continue playoff push

By Tom Castro

Stats Senior Editor

NY Rangers (36-26-8) at Montreal (36-25-8), 7:30 p.m. EDT

MONTREAL (AP) -- Thanks to agitating play and unexpected offense

from Sean Avery, the New York Rangers have been making a push

for the playoffs. A victory over the Montreal Canadiens could

prove critical to that goal.

Avery and the Rangers hope to move into a tie for fifth place in

the Eastern Conference when they meet the Canadiens at the Bell

Centre on Tuesday night.

After a fast start, the Rangers have endured a mostly

disappointing and inconsistent season and had been dropping in

the conference standings. That was before the return of Avery,

the abrasive forward who came back to the Rangers early this

month after his failed stint with Dallas.

Re-acquired to add badly needed energy and grit, Avery has

provided that along with surprising offense. He scored two

power-play goals and drew a pair of penalties to lead the

Rangers to a 4-1 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday - their

fourth win in six games since his return and fifth in seven

contests overall.

Avery has scored in three straight games and has four goals in

seven contests since rejoining New York.

"The first couple of games I was just so nervous, kind of

playing a little too hard," said Avery, who has never scored

more than 18 goals in a season. "I'm just trying to slow it

down, think about the plays and where they're going to end up.

"I feel good as far as just being happy that I'm out playing,

and trying to play hard and help the team win. I've gotten some

good bounces and I've gotten some good passes. It's tough to

explain. Obviously, the team playing better is something that

helps a lot."

The Rangers briefly fell out of playoff position last week for

the first time this season but have since moved into a tie with

Montreal for the sixth spot. Two points ahead in fifth is

Pittsburgh, and the Flyers are four points up on New York in

fourth place.

The Rangers may have to fix their power play if they want to

keep the pressure on those teams, and Avery has helped boost

that anemic unit - at least temporarily. They scored three

power-play goals Sunday for just the second time this season and

had failed on 14 straight man-advantage chances before Avery

broke the drought.

New York will be facing a Montreal team that has beaten it twice

this season by a combined 12-5 score. Henrik Lundqvist started

both games for the Rangers, and he's lost three straight starts

to the Canadiens, allowing 16 goals.

While Montreal has dominated the season series, the Canadiens

have dropped two straight and four of six since a four-game

winning streak. They followed a 3-2 overtime loss to the woeful

New York Islanders on Thursday with a 3-1 defeat to New Jersey

on Saturday, falling to 1-1-1 since general manager Bob Gainey

took over behind the bench after firing coach Guy Carbonneau.

The Canadiens are closing a four-game homestand and play six of

their next seven at home, where they're 21-7-5 this season.

"To stay with our competition, we'll need to pick up more than

three points next week," Gainey said.

Montreal backup Jaroslav Halak stopped 45 shots Saturday but

fell victim to his team's offensive troubles. The Canadiens have

four goals in their last four defeats.

Halak stopped 36 shots to defeat the Rangers on January 7, but

Carey Price should be back in net for Montreal on Tuesday. He

made 18 saves in the December 4 win over New York.

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