Avery back in spotlight

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

Sean Avery is losing his cool.

The New York Rangers are losing games.

And if this keeps up, the Broadway Blueshirts will lose the opportunity to qualify for the post-season.

Memo to Avery: If you want to help your team, use your stick to put pucks in the net, not to clunk goalies in the back of the head.

While the Rangers so-called "changed man" reverted back to his side-show shenanigans Saturday (that didn't take long, did it?), the Rangers were going down to defeat yet again, this time dropping a 1-0 decision to the Boston Bruins.

And now, the Rangers playoff hopes are quite precarious.

With the Florida Panthers posting a 4-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday, the Panthers and Rangers are now deadlocked for the eighth and final playoff spot in the eastern conference with 89 points. Both teams have three games remaining.

Maintaining a sliver of hope, the longshot Buffalo Sabres are four points back at 85 with four games left on their schedule.

As the regular season enters its final week, the Rangers, losers of two consecutive games, should be feeling the pressure, especially given the quality of their remaining opponents.

* The Rangers host the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow at Madison Square Garden before finishing off the season with a pair of contests against the rival Philadelphia Flyers, Thursday in New York and Sunday in the City of Brotherly Loathe. Because the Habs and Flyers are scrambling for post-season seeds, both teams will view their meetings against the Rangers as must wins.

* The Panthers have no easy task either, visiting the Flyers tomorrow and Atlanta Thursday before welcoming the Washington Ovechkins to the Everglades Saturday.

* The Sabres improbable run starts tonight with a home date against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings before hitting the road to face the Maple Leafs Wednesday and Carolina Hurricanes Thursday. They close out the season by meeting the Eastern Conference champion Bruins Saturday.

The race in the east certainly is going down to the wire.

If the Panthers wedge themselves into the playoffs, it will be a huge boost for a long-time sad-sack franchise.

If the Sabres get in, it would be a dream finish to the season.

And, should the Rangers not get in, their rabid fan base will be livid at a team that started the season 10-2-1. Should that be the case, their supporters have every right to be angry at their team's subsequent collapse.

Because the Rangers have more victories than the Panthers (40-39), the Broadway Blueshirts control their own destiny. Win all three remaining games, and they're in.

Easier said than done.

Avery-Thomas Rematch

If the Rangers do finish eighth, they'll meet the Bruins in the first round.

Should that be the case, maybe they should put a wrestling ring at centre ice during the first intermission of Game 1 and let Tim Thomas take his frustrations out on Avery.

In case you missed it, Avery ignited a brouhaha in the third period Saturday when, during a TV timeout, he skated behind an unsuspecting Thomas and thwacked the Bruins goalie on the back of the helmet with his stick.

Thomas understandably snapped and went after Avery, smacking him with his catching glove. When the Rangers' Fredrick Sjostrom attempted to intervene, Thomas drilled him in the face with his blocker.

Thomas and fellow goalie Scott Clemmensen agree on this point: When it comes to Avery, a leopard does not change his spots.

In other words, neither one figures the "new" Sean Avery is any different from the irritating pest whose antics earned him a suspension and a one-way ticket out of Dallas earlier this season.

"Come on ... Like anyone would believe that's an accident," a sarcastic Thomas told reporters when asked about Avery's actions.

"There are some lines that can't be crossed. He has a hard time figuring out what the lines are."

Clemmensen agreed.

"In terms of poker playing, if you're going to bluff, you have to have a solid reputation," the New Jersey Devils goalie told the Newark Star-Ledger. "If you bluff a lot and try to bluff again, you're going to get picked off. Avery is not a good bluffer It's only a matter of time before one of these little things he does, he gets hurt. Or he gets sucker punched ... and he gets hurt very seriously. It's just a matter of time."

Sid (The Crusher) Crosby

The regular season isn't even over yet, and already Sidney Crosby has developed a post-season snarl.

Not known for his pugilistic skills, Crosby, upset that the Panthers' Keith Ballard had upended the Pens' Evgeni Malkin with a low check, went after the Florida defenceman and subsequently exchanged punches with him yesterday.

Crosby received an unsportsmanlike conduct minor and a five-minute fighting major This was the second time Sid The Kid has scrapped with a Panther this season He dropped the gloves with Brett McLean during a Jan. 3 game.

The Week Ahead

Ron Wilson officially will be named the head coach of the U.S. Olympic team today ... Maple Leafs forward Brad May will play in his 1,000th career game Wednesday versus Buffalo.


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