All the Rangers needed was one point Saturday night at Madison Square Garden to clinch a playoff spot for the eighth time in nine years. Despite a furious effort in the third period, they just couldn't secure it.
The Rangers had 43 shots on goal but failed to wrap up a berth after their 3-2 loss in regulation to the Ottawa Senators.
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"Very frustrating," said Brad Richards, who won 12 of 17 faceoffs but was a minus-1. "The first period hurt us [the Rangers trailed 2-0 after the first]. We were a little slow doing things . . . We just weren't quite on top of it and executing, and that gave them some momentum."
Though they lost, the Rangers (91 points) would have clinched if the Maple Leafs and Devils had lost. The Leafs lost to the Jets but the Devils beat Carolina.
If the Devils (84 points with four games to play) don't win against Calgary on Monday night, the Rangers will clinch a spot because they own the tiebreaker.
The Rangers, in second place in the Metro, have three games left. The Flyers, who lost in Boston, have 87 points with five games to play. The Rangers' next two games are at home, against the Hurricanes on Tuesday and the Sabres on Thursday.
"We're still in a good spot here," Dan Girardi said. "It's in our hands to win the next game at home and then hopefully secure home ice in the first round."
The Senators led 3-2 after two periods, with both Rangers goals coming on deflections in front by Mats Zuccarello as the Blueshirts tried to fight back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits.
The quick transition game of the 13th-place Senators, who came into town with 78 points, bedeviled the Rangers, who fed into it with turnovers. Ottawa, which had lost to the Canadiens, 7-4, on Friday night and are pretty much out of playoff contention, tightened up defensively.
"First game after a long road trip -- I don't know why -- it's always challenging for players," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Our execution from defense to offense was average."
Midway through the third, Derick Brassard fanned on a pass near the right post on an odd-man rush with Robin Lehner (41 saves) out of position.
The Rangers, in a 4-for-46 slump on the power play, were awarded their second of the game when Eric Gryba was called for a slash with 8:43 left in the third. But Lehner stopped Rick Nash's seventh shot of the game.
With less than three minutes left, Chris Neil skated across the ice and rammed Marc Staal into the boards, and the Rangers jumped in. Staal received a double-minor for roughing, Zuccarello got two minutes and the Rangers were shorthanded after Ottawa ended up with only minor roughing penalties to Neil and Zack Smith. Brassard was given a 10-minute misconduct.
Early in the second period, after Erik Karlsson reached in and thwarted Martin St. Louis' break-in, Zuccarello tipped John Moore's slap shot from the left point past Lehner at 5:25. Benoit Pouliot apparently deflected the puck first and was given an assist, and his point streak stretched to five games.
Three minutes later, after Henrik Lundqvist (31 saves) stopped Karlsson's blast, the Rangers couldn't control the puck and Jason Spezza poked it in at 8:27 to make it 3-1.
Zuccarello's 19th goal pulled the Rangers within one at 11:55, as he tipped in Staal's shot.