Beginning the week with a thrilling win over one of the Eastern Conference's top teams was a huge boost to the New York Rangers' playoff push.
A loss from that game may turn out to be even more significant.
Back on the ice for the first time since losing Ryan Callahan indefinitely, the Rangers look to keep control of their playoff fate when they host the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night.
New York (43-32-5) has a two-point lead over Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, but a regulation loss in this game would leave the Rangers needing help to qualify.
They would still have the same number of non-shootout victories as the Hurricanes -- the first tiebreaker in the playoff race -- but Carolina will have a game in hand after Thursday. Plus, the Hurricanes won the next tiebreaker, having earned more points in the season series against New York by going 2-0-2.
Maybe no skater has been more vital to New York staying in the playoff chase than Callahan. The team leader in power-play goals (10) and game-winners (five), Callahan also is among the league's top forwards in hits and blocks. Since he returned from a broken hand Feb. 1, his 13 goals and 25 points both lead the Rangers.
However, the star winger broke his right leg Monday while blocking a Zdeno Chara shot late in a 5-3 win over Boston, and it's possible Callahan won't play again until next season.
"You can't really say enough good things about him as a player and as a person and as a leader in this organization," captain Chris Drury said. "We're going to miss him, and miss him a lot. He plays in every situation and does all the little things, does all the big things. He's just been great. He's going to be a big loss for us."
With Drury not yet ready to return following Feb. 11 knee surgery, defenseman Matt Gilroy -- a healthy scratch the last six games -- will rejoin the lineup as a forward to fill Callahan's spot.
The injury to Callahan came in what was an otherwise rousing victory, with New York thrilling its home fans by rallying from a 3-0 deficit against the Northeast Division champion Bruins. Brandon Dubinsky scored the tying goal with 3:48 to play and Mike Sauer netted the game-winner 51 seconds later.
"We have to refocus and come back down to an even keel to prepare ourselves for a good Atlanta team," Dubinsky told the Rangers' official website. "We have to make sure that we're prepared and ready to go."
The Thrashers (33-34-12) could play a big role in New York's playoff destiny. They finish a five-game trip at Madison Square Garden before hosting the Hurricanes on Friday.
Atlanta hasn't done a good job playing spoiler recently, letting the Bruins clinch the Northeast by losing 3-2 on Saturday and falling 6-3 to playoff-hopeful Nashville on Tuesday.
The Thrashers, though, have had New York's number. They're 2-0-1 in the season series and 12-3-3 in the past 18 meetings, including four straight wins in Manhattan.
The Rangers are 5-0-1 in their last six home games.
New York's Vinny Prospal has three goals and an assist in the last three games, and his 58 career points versus Atlanta are 12 more than he has against any other opponent.
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