Both teams have 15 games remaining on their regular-season National Hockey League schedules. For the New York Rangers, the playoffs are still a distinct possibility. For the Washington Capitals, the role of spoiler will have to suffice.
The teams meet tonight at 7:30 in Madison Square Garden, and the Rangers seemingly have all the incentive. They are in the midst of the longest home stand in the last seven years, and need a victory to stay close to Detoit and Pittsburgh in the race for a wild-card stanley cup playoff bid.
The Capitals are probably playing their best hockey of the season, even if they are only 4-1-1 in their last three outings.But they rallied nicely to tie St. Louis in the final minute last week, then played brilliantly in a heartbreaking 4-3 loss Wednesday night to the Montreal Canadiens at the Forum.
"I've been impressed recently with the play of some of our younger players," said Capital General Manager Max McNab. "It's been a long, long struggle this season, but our guys don't want to give up. We have an amazingly good feeling among our players considering what's happened this year. The Montreal game proved that.
"Our goal now? It remains constant - go into every game and give it our best shot. In this league winning is everything, at least trying to win is everything, and that's what we'll do.
"I'm not going to say we should win nine of 15 or 12 of 15. I do want us to keep hustling, and I've seen nothing in the last three games to make me think we're not going to keep on doing just that."
Going into yesterday's games, the Rangers were three points behind Detroit and two behind Pittsburgh and must pass one of those teams to make the playoffs for the first time in three years.
The teams have tied twice in their only two meetings of the season. On Dec. 21 at New York, the Caps trailed 3-0, scored five goals in the second period and settled for a point when Pat Hickey scored at 15:15 of the final period to gain the 5-5 deadlock.
On Dec. 30 at Capital Centre, the Caps rallied from a 2-0 deficit and gained a 3-all tie on Tommy Rowe's goal at 10:15 of the final period.
The Capitals will have the services of forwards Bob Sirois and Dave Forbes against the Rangers. Sirois missed seven games with a sparined left hand and Forbes four games with a bruised shoulder.
The hottest Capital lately has been wing Ace Bailey, who has eight points in the Capital's last three games, four goals - three against Colorado - and four assists.
Ranger wing Don Murdoch is on a small tear himself, with seven goals and four assists in his last seven games, including a hat trick Wednesday night in a 6-1 Ranger victory over Cleveland.