Rangers end regular season on high note with 4-0 win over Devils
Next stop for the Rangers: Washington.
The Rangers clinched the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Saturday, blanking the already-eliminated Devils easily in the regular-season finale, 4-0.
Henrik Lundqvist, who made 20 saves for his second shutout of the year, helped the Rangers close the regular season on a 10-3-1 run. They have 26 wins and 56 points, and avoided a first-round matchup with the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins, who are the top seed in the East.
"We are where we need to be," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "April was a good month for us. We played our style and won in different fashions. It was a good way to finish the year. They weren't playing for much. We got on them early and stuck with it from there."
The Rangers moved ahead of the Islanders into sixth place and will play the red hot Capitals in Washington for Games 1 and 2 next week. Ottawa lost to the Flyers in regulation Saturday night, 2-1, and cannot finish of the Rangers, even though the Senators play their season finale Sunday against the Bruins.
Derek Stepan, the team's leading scorer, and Ryan Callahan each beat Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg (17 saves) and added an assist in the first period, when the Rangers took a 2-0 lead. Rick Nash scored the final two goals to give him a team-high 21 in 44 games after not scoring in the past three games.
Stepan's opening goal came at 2:37, when Callahan spun behind the net and set him up for a blast with a backhand pass. Callahan, denied a shorthanded goal on a breakaway when Hedberg lunged with his left skate to deny the opportunity, didn't miss on the next solo chance.
With Taylor Pyatt in the penalty box for hooking at 18:43, Stepan intercepted Marek Zidlicky's pass in mid-ice and fed the Rangers captain, who sped in alone and beat a diving Hedberg through the legs with 59 seconds left in the period.
"We have kind of found our way, in the last 10 games or so, just to come in each night and have a different mindset and focus on the game and the start," said Stepan, who has 18 goals and a team-high 44 points.
Since the trade deadline on April 3, when the Rangers acquired Derick Brassard and two others from the Blue Jackets, and Ryane Clowe from the Sharks, the Blueshirts lead the NHL in scoring, averaging 3.6 goals per game. They had been at 2.4.
Nash scored his 20th at 17:23 of the second on a dish from Brad Richards, who was behind the net. Nash had a breakaway on Hedberg earlier and appeared to be pulled down by Ilya Kovalchuk, but no call was made. Nash's 21st came at 5:30 of the third after Mats Zuccarello held the puck, skating and waiting for an opening.
"We have been inconsistent, but we made some big plays and won some big games to keep us afloat during the tough times," said coach John Tortorella, who declined to comment on the 0-for-6 power play, perhaps the only negative in the game.
"I'm concerned with the lineup a little bit. I'm hoping some guys get healthy," he said, mentioning Clowe, Brian Boyle and defenseman Marc Staal. "I'm happy with the past month, five weeks. Now we have to prepare for whoever we play."