RALEIGH, N.C. - It took a fortunate bounce on Brad Richards' 58-foot shot that caromed off the end boards and off goalie Dan Ellis' skate to tie the Hurricanes with 2:57 left in regulation Thursday night, and a far post rocket from Ryan Callahan in overtime to put the Rangers in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the third straight season with a 4-3 comeback victory.
"That was just a sick play," Henrik Lundqvist said of Callahan's 15th goal, a shot from the left side on a rush at 2:55 of overtime. Said Derek Stepan: "It's a great reward for him. He's led us all year to get into the playoffs."
The dramatic win lifted the Rangers (54 points) into a tie for sixth place with the Senators and Islanders, who lost, 2-1, in regulation in Philadelphia. Ottawa has two games left; the Rangers and Isles have one. The eighth seed will face the Penguins (35-12-0) in the first round; the seventh-place team will likely open against Boston (if the Bruins hold off Montreal and win their division), and the sixth-place finisher will battle the red hot Washington Capitals.
"Once we realized we weren't going to get home ice advantage, it was a matter of making it," said Callahan, who was buried under a pile of exuberant Rangers after the goal. "We've been playing the playoffs for the last two weeks, we've known a lot of these game are must-win."
The Rangers, who are 9-3-1 in their last 13, face the Devils at home Saturday.
"We have one more game and it can still change a lot of things," said Lundqvist (18 saves), who said that after Callahan's winner he felt "everything . . . excitement, joy, relief; you're proud, we've been working really hard to get in."
The Rangers came awfully close to a pressure-packed finale against the Devils. With the score tied at 2 -- after the Blueshirts had coughed up a 2-0 first-period lead -- Jiri Tlusty scored his second on a two-on-one break 49 seconds into the third period. It was the Hurricanes' third goal on their last five shots, carrying over from the second period.
It looked bleak until Richards' shot, which he didn't plan. "I was trying to get it down to some big guy, I think it was Pysie (Taylor Pyatt); I got lucky."
Stepan and Derick Brassard had scored in the first. Stepan, trailing down the middle on a rush, took a pass from Carl Hagelin and beat Ellis (34 saves) under his right arm from 13 feet for his 17th and a 1-0 lead at 3:19.
With Callahan, who had an assist on Stepan's goal, blocking two shots, one without his stick, the Rangers survived a power play at 11:33 when Matt Gilroy hooked Chad LaRose. Brassard scored on a rebound of Hagelin's wraparound at 15:52.
In the second, the Rangers lost their 2-0 lead in eight minutes. After Gilroy was sent off for his second tripping penalty, Tlusty scored at 4:51 and Tuomo Ruutu roofed one from 30 feet over Lundqvist at 7:50.
"We just find a way to get to get it done," Stepan said. "The struggles early in the season put us behind the eight ball; with the shortened season, every game being a four-point game. Tonight was just another example of how we kept going, we just kept coming after the third goal."