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Big Guns Reunited; & Asham Skates Again

After a much-needed day off Sunday, the Rangers were back on the ice early Monday for their morning skate, preparing for this evening's battle with the Carolina Hurricanes at The Garden. Having lost three in a row on the road, the Rangers are certainly hopeful a return to the friendly surroundings of Madison Square Garden gets them back on track tonight.

Likely the biggest news to come out of the morning skate was that when the team did line rushes, the Big Guns---Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik---were skating on the same line. Head coach John Tortorella---who will not speak with reporters until closer to game time---has not used this powerful threesome together in quite some time, in fact separating them for most of the season in an attempt to spread out the scoring.

But with the team struggling mightily to score goals---they have just two in their past three games---Tortorella seems set to load up his No. 1 line.

"The last time we played together we had some success," noted Nash, who leads the team with 23 points and is tied for the team lead with nine goals. "It was early in the season and we were still trying to find one another. But when the three of us play together we have to make sure we are responsible, play good defense, and get our offense from that."

As for what to expect from the Big Three being reunited tonight, Nash said that it's hard to say because he, Richards, and Gaborik do not have a long history together.

"I don't think we've played together long enough that we have each other figured out," explained Nash. "When you look at some of the good lines they've played together for years, or months, whatever it might be. But I did think early on we were having some success, and each game we were getting better."

Richards has centered for both Nash and Gaborik individually throughout the season---particularly Nash---so there is common ground for him. Even on the power play it has been rare to see all three stars on the ice at the same time this season.

Gaborik is right behind Nash and Ryan Callahan with eight goals, and his 17 points are third most on the team. However he has scored only one goal in his last 14 games. Richards has four goals---two in the past five games---and 15 points so far this season.

In loading up his top line, Tortorella has moved Carl Hagelin alongside Derek Stepan and Callahan on the second line. All three of those players have been among the team's most consistent this season. In fact Stepan and Callahan have scored four of the Rangers' last six goals covering four games. Callahan is tied for the team lead in goals, while Stepan ranks second in points with 18. Hagelin is 7-8-15 and playing with tremendous confidence and energy on a nightly basis.

No matter the lines and the lineup---which seems to be unchanged, meaning Stu Bickel and Matt Gilroy will be scratched again, and Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal---the Rangers need to find a way to get their overall game back on track. And they need to stop their losing streak immediately.

"Tonight is just go out and play," explained center Brian Boyle. "We believe in one another. We know what we are capable of. We just have to go out and do it. I think that will collectively add to the confidence in the group and help us get our swagger back."

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Veteran winger Arron Asham was skating again with the team Monday morning, the first time he had done so since practicing last Wednesday in Winnipeg. Asham reported afterwards that he had to shut it down for a few days after their skate in Winnipeg, but that his back felt better Monday and he is hopeful of returning to the lineup soon.

"We'll see how today goes, but it's just a matter of getting in game shape," explained Asham, who has not played since February 19th due to a sore back. "It probably wasn't smart on my part to try (in Winnipeg) because we had been on the plane for two and a half hours, and then we get into Winnipeg and it's not the warmest place. It was probably dumb on my part to try and skate. But now my back feels a lot better."

Asham said that he has never had back problems before, but the lower lumbar region of his back became extremely stiff and sore during that February 19th game against the Canadiens and it has debilitated him since. Though his back is not 100% healed, Asham feels that once he has his legs back in shape, he'll be able to play through any remaining discomfort.

"It hasn't been fun sitting in the stands and watching the team go through ups and downs," stated Asham. "I want to be in there and do my part to hopefully get some wins under our belt."

What do you think of reuniting Nash, Richards, and Gaborik on the same line tonight? And what of Asham's hopeful return soon? Share your comments below.

Mar 18 - 5:04pm
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