Having jumped out to a strong start this season, the Rangers hope Avery's expected return Sunday against the visiting Anaheim Ducks will help them win their fourth straight.
New York led Washington 3-1 in last season's Eastern Conference quarterfinals before Avery was benched in Game 5 for taking ill-advised penalties and the Rangers squandered several chances to advance. Avery returned for the team's final two losses but has yet to play this season after suffering a sprained knee in a collision during practice on Sept. 21.
During Avery's two stints with the Rangers, they are 61-26-17 with him in the lineup and 12-14-3 without him. Thanks to Marian Gaborik, though, New York (3-1-0) hasn't missed Avery too much.
The Rangers made the playoffs for the fourth straight season in 2008-09 but their 210 goals were tied for the second fewest in the East. New York made one of the biggest offseason splashes by signing Gaborik, the Wild's all-time scoring leader.
While playing under defensive-minded Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota, the 27-year-old winger tallied 30 goals in five of his eight seasons, including a career-high 42 in 2007-08. He had 13 goals and 23 points last season while playing only 17 games because of hip surgery.
Gaborik has returned healthy and productive in New York's up-tempo style with six points and four goals -- all in the third period. He scored twice in the final 12 minutes Thursday night to help New York rally for a 4-3 road victory over the Capitals.
"Players like (Gaborik) are so special," New York captain Chris Drury said. "They can change the game on one play -- and on one shot."
The Ducks also boast a player who can change a game. They appeared to be repeating last season's slow start before producing a stunning rally Saturday in Philadelphia.
Anaheim trailed 2-0 until Teemu Selanne scored twice in the final 6:44, tying the score with 16 seconds left. He then tallied the only shootout goal for a 3-2 victory.
The Ducks lost four straight to open 2008-09 before bouncing back to reach the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Anaheim (2-1-1) has rebounded from back-to-back losses to begin this season with consecutive victories and will try to end its four-game road trip on a positive note.
Selanne, who also scored twice in Thursday's 6-1 win over Boston, has two goals in his last 10 games against the Rangers. Gaborik, meanwhile, has five goals and two assists in his last eight matchups with the Ducks but did not face them last season.
He'll try to help New York improve its 5-2-0 mark versus Anaheim since Nov. 19, 2002, but both losses have been at Madison Square Garden, where the teams have split their last four meetings.
Rangers goaltender Stephen Valiquette is expected to make his first start this season and first in his career against Anaheim. Valiquette was 5-5-2 with a 2.84 goals-against average last season as a backup to Henrik Lundqvist.