The New York Rangers faceoff against the New Jersey Devils this afternoon (12:30 p.m. EST) for their final game of the regular season with playoff hopes still alive, but technically out of their control. Because of Thursday's loss against the Atlanta Thrashers, earning one or two points against the Devils doesn't guarantee the Rangers any future playing time. The Carolina Hurricanes will ultimately have the final say.
The Hurricanes beat the Thrashers last night, 6-1, tying the Rangers in points -- and the Buffalo Sabres clinched a playoff berth by beating the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime. Thus, the Rangers are playing for the final playoff slot. However, since the tiebreaker is regulation/OT wins -- and not total wins, which includes shootout wins (which the Rangers have the advantage, 43-40) -- the Hurricanes hold the tiebreaker with the Rangers. Currently, the 'Canes have 35 regulation/OT wins, while the Rangers have 34. At this point, New York can only grab the eighth playoff spot by having more total points. Carolina will battle against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST.
The magic number for the Rangers remains three: the Rangers need a win combined with a Carolina loss in regulation or overtime -- or they need to lose to the Devils in overtime and have the Hurricanes lose in regulation to make the playoffs. A regulation loss eliminates them entirely. The Devils, playing in their 81st game of the season, would love to end any postseason ambitions from their intra-division rivals right away, however.
It's worth noting that Tampa Bay essentially has nothing to play for; its playoff seed is fifth place regardless if they win or lose tomorrow. They are also on the road and are the third-worst road team among the current playoff seeds (20-14-6).
Knowing that a shootout could matter in the grand scheme of things, the Rangers have recalled Mats Zuccarello for this game. Chris Drury has also been skating but his status is up in the air. Matt Gilroy will most likely be the first scratch; Sean Avery or Erik Christensen the other scratch should Drury return to the lineup for the final game of the regular season.
Not much else to say for this one other than the Rangers need to earn points (preferably win) and then hope and pray that the Lightning help them out and defeat the Hurricanes. Should be a nerve-wracking day for Blueshirts fans, but could also be a very gratifying one for Devils fans.