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Rangers get Tikkanen to reinforce playoff run


The New York Rangers made the down-to-the-wire race to the playoffs in the Patrick Division just a little more interesting yesterday when they acquired left wing/center Esa Tikkanen and his $900,000 salary from the Edmonton Oilers for center Doug Weight.

The addition of Tikkanen gives the Rangers seven players making $900,000 or more, with Mark Messier topping the list at $2.385 million.

Tikkanen, 28, had 14 goals and 19 assists before last night's game between the Rangers and Oilers and is recognized as one of the best defensive forwards in the game, having been a three-time finalist for the Selke Trophy that goes to the NHL's best defensive player. Weight, 22, had 15 goals and 24 assists before last night.

"I've just heard about it," said Washington Capitals general manager David Poile. "Right now, we can't read what kind of a role he'll play or even whether this is a preliminary to

another trade. I think we'll have a better idea of what it means by Monday."

Poile did say that he feels no added pressure to make a trade to strengthen the Capitals because of the New York deal. "I can't be responsible for what other people do," Poile said. "We've simply got to get our team playing well and beat the teams we have to beat."

In the Patrick Division, where four teams are within three points of one another for the final three playoff spots, a shift in power can make a difference in the standings. Everyone also knows, as Capitals coach Terry Murray said recently, "If you're going to do anything in the playoffs, you've got to be able to beat the division champs."

Murray knows because Washington has managed to beat Pittsburgh once in five tries, going 1-3-1. And Rangers general manager Neil Smith knows, too. The Rangers are 2-3 against the Penguins.

"We've got to be able to beat our most formidable opponents," Smith said. "And that means Pittsburgh."

Charging up

The Capitals got in much-needed work on the power play Sunday and Monday before leaving on their two-game road trip. Murray had said he was convinced the practice sessions, in which he installed a few new wrinkles, would pay off. Tuesday, in Milwaukee, they did.

The power-play unit, which had two goals in its previous 32 chances, scored twice against Detroit to spark the 4-2 win.

"I don't want them to have to be reading all the time," Murray said. "I want it to be pretty automatic. . . . We worked mostly on setups, moving the puck around, trying to stick to the basics."

Part of what Murray wanted was for center Dale Hunter to get to the front of the net quickly, whenever the puck got to the "blue-line guys" -- Kevin Hatcher and Calle Johansson -- and then he wanted Hatcher and Johansson to get the puck to Hunter just as quickly.

The line executed as directed, with Hunter directing in a blue-line shot from Johansson and then one from a Hatcher-to-Johansson relay for Washington's first two goals.

Murray said he doesn't want it "to be too fine." He said he'll be happy if they just get some ugly goals, "by getting the puck to the net and getting some rebounds. . . . When we were getting three guys on the loose pucks in the corners, we were doing a pretty good job."

Messier still struggling

Rangers captain Messier says he is day-to-day with either torn rib-cage cartilage or torn rib-cage muscles, but the injury needs six to eight weeks to heal -- under normal conditions. Playing 14 games in the next 29 games is not exactly routine.

"I can't play without taking anti-inflammatories, and they're only masking the injury," Messier said. "Time is the only thing that can really heal it. I think it's a day-to-day thing right now."

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