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Inside the NHL | Helene Elliott / ON THE NHL

Rangers Can't Get It Together

February 25, 2003|Helene Elliott

Two days after the New York Rangers dominated the Mighty Ducks in a performance that suggested they're earning their inflated salaries and contending for a playoff spot, they reverted to their old, bad habits in a 4-1 loss to Colorado on Sunday and fell further out of the top eight in the East.

What does $75 million buy in today's NHL? A lack of discipline. Spotty defense. Flashes of brilliance but no winning streak longer than three games.

Although Brian Leetch and Pavel Bure have recently returned from the injured list, the Rangers remain six points out of the playoffs with 17 games left, 12 of them against teams at .500 or better. All of their closest rivals have at least two games in hand.

"Every game, we have to come up with big efforts, like this is our last game, a playoff game," said Alexei Kovalev, who was acquired from Pittsburgh Feb. 10.

If they fail, cheers will resound from general managers' offices across the NHL.

"I think there are people that are trying to make it on a restrictive budget and are trying to be competitive that would prefer that maybe they wouldn't make it," Duck General Manager Bryan Murray said. "Kind of, 'See, I told you so.' We're all like that, to an extent."

Although the Ducks lost to the Rangers on Friday, they are sixth in the West, with a nine-point edge over ninth-place Chicago. Murray might envy the Rangers' budget but not their methods or results.

"Sure, I want to be able to get some good players and I want to compete for players," he said. "I don't want one team to be loaded up all the time. But they're not the only ones we compete with for players....

"It comes down to how well players buy into the roles they're given. You can pay all kinds of money or as little as you possibly can. As long as guys buy in and believe in what you're trying to do, you can compete every night, and that's one thing I'm happy about with our team. We have players that, if you mention them to people around the league, a lot of guys wouldn't be trying to get them. But they've played well together and we're competitive most every night now."

The deep pockets of parent company Cablevision enable the Rangers to collect stars such as Kovalev, Bure and Bobby Holik, but spending sprees don't often buy success in the NHL. Teamwork plays a huge role, and the Rangers play like strangers with varied philosophies, even with General Manager Glen Sather behind the bench as coach to fix his own mistakes.

Sather might not have run out of money, but he's running out of time.

Mark Messier said, "We know we have to win, and win a lot."

Money has bought the Rangers a bunch of stars, but it hasn't bought them a true team.

Can-Do Canucks

Suddenly, there's a race for the top spot in the West.

The Dallas Stars have been on top most of the season but they're being challenged by Vancouver, whose 9-0-4-0 streak moved them within two points of the lead.

"We have confidence right now," said veteran Trevor Linden, who's enjoying a renaissance centering for twin Swedes Daniel and Henrik Sedin. "We go into every game knowing we have a chance to win, so we do things to give us that chance."

Canuck fans have had high expectations of the Sedins since General Manager Brian Burke chose Daniel second and Henrik third in the 1999 entry draft. They've been slow to develop, but they've clicked with Linden.

"They're real good players," Linden said. "They have good patience with the puck. I like getting through the neutral zone with some speed and they're good at finding me."

The success of Linden's line ignited the Canucks' surge. Before that, their only productive trio comprised Brendan Morrison, Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund. Having two solid lines makes it tougher for opponents to stifle the Canucks' offense.

Singing the Blues

Uncertain that Brent Johnson can carry the playoff load, the St. Louis Blues reportedly are interested in acquiring goalie Sean Burke from Phoenix.

He was the Coyotes' most valuable player last season but has been plagued by injuries and hasn't taken a team deeper than five games into the playoffs since 1987-88, when he played 17 games for the New Jersey Devils. Since then, he's 3-14.

If the Coyote demand is impressive rookie defenseman Barret Jackman, the Blues should look elsewhere. Another option is Arturs Irbe, recalled Monday from the American Hockey League by the Carolina Hurricanes.

His mediocre season hints he wouldn't add much, either, but he was solid during the Hurricanes' run to the Cup finals a year ago and might feel he has something to prove this season if someone picks him up.

He'll Always Have Paris

Canadien defenseman Patrice Brisebois, told by doctors to take a week off after suffering stress-induced chest pains, followed their instructions perfectly.

He took off -- to France.

Although the journey might have been restful for him, it caused his bosses some stress because he didn't tell them he was leaving town. General Manager Andre Savard learned about it in a local newspaper.

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