A playoff spot is far from a sure thing for the New York Rangers, and the absence of their leading scorer could only make it less of a certainty.
The Rangers are hopeful Scott Gomez might only have to sit out Tuesday's game, though it is a pretty big one because it comes against the team closest to them in the playoff standings -- the Philadelphia Flyers.
A rib injury is expected to keep Gomez, who leads New York (39-26-10) with 51 assists and 67 points, off the ice for this matchup and possibly for Thursday's game against New Jersey.
"Scotty's an impact player for us, he's a leader on our team," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "You don't want guys like that out of your lineup too long."
Gomez was injured as he crashed into the boards in the Rangers' most recent game, a 4-3 shootout loss at Philadelphia on Friday. Maybe a break to regroup would benefit Gomez, who has gone pointless in four straight games and six of seven.
"We got an opportunity for somebody else to jump in and get it done, but if we're gonna do anything beyond right now we're gonna have to do it by committee anyway," Renney said. "It doesn't revolve around one man as much as every single guy's important."
Gomez's absence, though, surely will not help a New York power play which has been limited to one goal in its last 26 opportunities.
His replacement is expected to be Petr Prucha, a healthy scratch the last 10 games after missing six with a shoulder injury. Prucha had 52 goals over his first two NHL seasons before managing just seven in 56 games this season.
New York has followed a 10-0-3 stretch by losing three of five, dropping to sixth place in the Eastern Conference and only two points ahead of the resurgent Flyers (38-28-10). The Rangers are in good shape to make the postseason with a six-point edge over ninth-place Washington, but they can't afford a major slide over the final two weeks because four teams currently out of the playoff picture are within eight points of them.
Philadelphia's playoff hopes were in question after a 10-game losing streak in February, and were further put in jeopardy with a four-game skid earlier this month. However, the Flyers have since bounced back to win three straight, including a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Sunday night.
"I just like the energy in our game we're starting to play with," Flyers coach John Stevens said.
He's been particularly happy with how Martin Biron has played since the goaltender was pulled in the second period of a 7-1 loss at Pittsburgh on March 16. Biron has stopped 55 of the 59 shots he's faced in winning his last two starts, and stopped both shootout attempts by the Rangers in Friday's victory.
"I'm excited for Marty that he is gaining confidence as we move along," Stevens said. "We've said all along if you are going to win this time of year, you need really good goaltending and Marty seems like he's getting more confidence as we move along."
Biron had been 0-3 versus the Rangers in 2007-08 before beating them last week as Philadelphia won for just the second time in seven meetings this season.
The Rangers are 6-0-1 in their last seven home games, including a 5-4 shootout win over the Flyers on March 2.