Rangers Make The Playoffs, Will Face Capitals In Round One

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New York Rangers Make The Playoffs, Will Face Washington Capitals In Round One

The New York Rangers did their job Saturday (which had been eluding them over recent weeks) to boost their playoff hopes by defeating the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, and they had one more request: a Carolina Hurricanes loss. On Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning did the Rangers the biggest favor of the season by beating the Hurricanes, 6-2, meaning that the Rangers had earned a trip to the 2011 NHL Playoffs. Mike Smith was Henrik Lundqvist-like in net, making 42 stops in the 'Bolts' victory.

The Rangers, the eighth seed with 93 points and a 44-33-5 record, will play the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, which will begin either Wednesday or Thursday (schedule to be released tomorrow). New York defeated the Capitals three out of four times this season, but make no mistake about it, the slates are wiped clean in the postseason and anything can happen. The last time the Rangers made it to the playoffs was 2009 and they played the Capitals, jumping out to a 3-1 series lead before seeing it collapse via a comeback from Washington.

The series figures to be an exciting one, with the offense-heavy Capitals led by Alex Ovechkin playing against the full-of-heart, grind-it-out Rangers, who will be without Ryan Callahan but back to playing again with their captain, Chris Drury, in the lineup. 

Just like last year, the Rangers' playoff fate was decided on the last day of their season. But unlike last year, they can postpone their golfing trips for at least a few weeks.

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Rangers 5, Devils 2

New York, NY (Sports Network) – Ryan McDonagh’s first NHL goal gave the Rangers the lead during a three-goal second period, as New York kept its playoff hopes alive — for at least a few hours — with a 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden.

Wojtek Wolski and Brandon Prust also scored during the second period for the Rangers (44-33-5), who played their final regular-season game and still need help to qualify for the postseason. If Carolina beats Tampa Bay tonight in Raleigh, the Hurricanes will claim the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference and the Rangers will be home for the second straight year.

Last spring it came down to the final game, as the Rangers lost to Philadelphia in a shootout and missed the playoffs. The Rangers were among the top eight teams in the East for most of this season and controlled their own playoff destiny until a demoralizing 3-0 loss to Atlanta on Thursday.

A loss to the Devils would have ended New York’s season regardless of Carolina’s outcome and Ilya Kovalchuk tried to make it happen with a goal and an assist in the first period for New Jersey, which will conclude its season on Sunday against Boston. The Devils were officially eliminated from postseason contention last week after a strong second-half run and will finish with a losing record for the first time since the 1990-91 season.

Nick Palmieri also scored for the Devils and Martin Brodeur made 24 saves in defeat.

Chris Drury returned for the Rangers after being sidelined since early February with a knee injury and contributed his first goal of the season to erase an early New Jersey lead. Vinny Prospal chipped in a goal and an assist for New York, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 24 shots.

“I think last year was really tough,” said Lundqvist. “It is hard to be satisfied or disappointed right now. If we are in, I think it is a great year. If not, you cannot be happy about the year. We will see.”

The Rangers trailed 2-1 after the opening period, but tied it just 1:52 into the second. The Devils were caught in a bad line change, leading to a 2-on-1 break, and Wolski fired a shot from the left circle past Brodeur on the short side for his 12th goal.

McDonagh gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead with just over eight minutes left in the period. Marian Gaborik sent the puck behind the net for Prospal, who spotted McDonagh alone in the right circle and the young defenseman snapped a shot past Brodeur’s glove.

Prust then slipped a rebound past Brodeur to make it 4-2 with 3:54 remaining in the stanza. Brodeur stopped Brandon Dubinsky’s weak shot from above the left circle, but he was unable to control it and Prust managed to sneak the puck past the netminder for his 13th goal.

“They had a little slow start, but they picked it up in the second,” said Brodeur.

The Rangers tacked on one more midway through the third on another bad New Jersey line change. Dan Girardi took advantage and made a great outlet pass to spring a 2-on-1 break, and Prospal converted a perfect feed from Artem Anisimov for his ninth goal.

“We had two bad changes and they scored on [them],” said Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire. “Aside from that, I thought the guys played hard.”

The Devils scored just over two minutes into the game and silenced the crowd when Palmieri deflected a Kovalchuk shot past Lundqvist, but Drury made his presence felt just over a minute later when he backhanded a shot between Brodeur’s legs.

“You don’t want to give them a chance to get comfortable with the lead and build momentum off of it,” Drury said about his goal. “Any time you give up a goal you try to respond the right way and as fast as you can.”

Kovalchuk made it 2-1 with just 42 seconds left in the opening period. He corralled a pass in the left circle, slipped around a check and fired a shot that went through the legs of a Rangers defender before going over Lundqvist’s shoulder.

Neither team had a power play, as the only penalties called were coincidental minors in the second period…New Jersey’s Travis Zajac played in his 400th consecutive game and contributed an assist…Brodeur has a record of 23-26-3 this season and will finish below .500 for the first time in his career…The Rangers captured the season series, 4-2…New York finished 20-17-4 at home.

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New York Rangers Vs. New Jersey Devils: Will This Be It For The Rangers' Season?

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.




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