The Colorado Avalanche are heading toward the playoffs looking to remain one of the NHL’s hottest teams despite recently losing a star player.
That now may be just what the New York Rangers face.
With the status of top defenseman Ryan McDonagh uncertain, the red-hot Rangers cap a western road swing Thursday night against a Colorado club seeking its longest win streak in five months without leading scorer Matt Duchene.
McDonagh, who leads New York in ice time and points among defensemen (43), has missed one game over the past three seasons but could be facing an extended absence. He left Tuesday’s 3-1 win in Vancouver after a hit from Alexandre Burrows, heading right to the dressing room and favoring his left shoulder.
Though the Rangers (43-30-4) have provided no update, his teammates sounded very concerned.
"It’s not a good thing to see him laying on the ice," forward Brad Richards told the league’s official website. "He’s probably been our best player for the last few months."
McDonagh joins Dan Girardi on the top blueline pairing and plays in all situations, helping New York hold its last seven opponents to 10 goals and making life easier on star goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
"You get worried," Lundqvist said. "We have important weeks ahead of us, hopefully months, so you want to make sure everybody is healthy and hopefully it’s not too bad."
The news on Duchene wasn’t too good for the Avalanche (48-21-6), who learned Monday that its points leader (70) would likely miss four weeks with a knee injury. However, their first game without him went well, rallying from a two-goal deficit in the third period and beating Columbus 3-2 in overtime Monday.
Gabriel Landeskog scored the tying and winning goals off assists from Nathan MacKinnon, who tops all rookies with 58 points and is now centering the top line in Duchene’s place.
"After the second going into the third we talked about not finding any excuses," Landeskog said. "Not using any injuries or what-not as an excuse. And it’s an opportunity for a lot of guys to step up and a lot of guys did. We played a playoff-type of third period."
The Avalanche have clinched a playoff spot thanks to a four-game win streak during which Landeskog has five goals and two assists. Colorado hasn’t had one longer since a six-game run that carried through Nov. 2.
"For us as a team I think we are doing the little things and certainly finding ways to win," Landeskog said.
The Rangers have all but wrapped up a postseason berth by winning seven of eight. They’ve won six of seven away from home, including 2-1-0 on this trip, and set a franchise record with their 25th road victory Tuesday.
Martin St. Louis finally got his first goal with the Rangers – and 30th of the season – after failing to score in his first 14 games after being acquired from Tampa Bay.
"There is a lot of things playing against you a little bit with a new team and new environment, but you try to stay the course, play the right way and find that fine line of anticipating and not cheating," St. Louis said. "I feel like I am getting more comfortable finding that line."
St. Louis provided New York’s third short-handed goal in the last two games. Colorado has allowed one all season.
The Rangers have lost six of seven in Denver but haven’t played there since 2010. The Avalanche lost 5-1 in New York on Feb. 4 as Lundqvist made 27 saves.
Semyon Varlamov’s career goals-against average versus the Rangers climbed to 3.75 – his worst against any opponent – but his .930 save percentage since the Olympic break is tops among Western Conference goalies with at least five starts.