The Rangers figured they'd be playing the first round of the post-season in the nation's capitol.
By winning their season finale at Madison Square Garden tonight, the Rangers had a chance to play the Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Instead, they will play the Ottawa Senators because the Capitals shocked the Blueshirts and Henrik Lundqvist with three goals in the first period en route to a 4-1 win. “You want to nail it down, we didn’t, it’s disappointing,” said Marc Staal.
The Florida Panthers, another possible first round opponent, defeated Carolina 4-1 to clinch the Southeast Division and the No. 3 seed.So the Rangers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, will face Ottawa (41-31-10, 92 points,) the 8th seed, which has lost three in a row, including 4-2 last night to New Jersey
“We were looking forward to the playoffs maybe a little too much,” said Brad Richards. “We’ve been mature enough all season to handle any of these things, so we’ll wipe it clean…We’re going to come out with energy and emotion. We’ve played this style all year---the level will have to go up.” He called Ottawa “a very offensive team and very opportunistic.” The first two post-season games are at Madison Square Garden on Thursday and Saturday.
The Rangers (51-24-7, 109 points), who have lost two in a row, won only one of four against the Senators, 3-2 on Nov. 9 in Ottawa. The Senators edged the Rangers 5-4 in a shootout on Oct. 29 in the second home game of the season. Richards scored twice and Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan once each. Five games later, Gaborik scored twice and Derek Stepan once in the victory. The third game was here on Jan. 12, and Craig Anderson tossed a 3-0 shutout. Their last meeting was on March 8 in Ottawa, a 4-1 loss, with Callahan scoring the lone goal against backup Ben Bishop.
Last night, the paint on the ice with the playoff logo had barely dried and the home team was behind.
The Capitals, who had lost two of three against the Blueshirts, scored on their first two shots. Brooks Laich won a faceoff from Derek Stepan and got the puck back to Alex Ovechkin, whose 40-foot shot from above the left circle flew by Lundqvist at the 32 second mark. At 2:18, Mathieu Perreault tipped in Roman Hamrlik’s point shot for his 16th goal of the season.
After Ryan McDonagh cleared the puck into the stands for a delay of game at 16:41, John Carlson’s long shot appeared to hit Artem Anisimov and change direction. “Everything that could go wrong in the first period did,” said Lundqvist. “The puck just seemed to go their way.”
Nicklas Backstrom made it 4-0 at 5:58 of the second---the fourth goal in 10 shots---before Brian Boyle’s 11th goal cut the deficit to three at 12:44 with a wraparound from the left side, as the Capitals, who finished seventh in the East and will face Boston, concentrated on defense. Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby made 35 saves.
With the loss, the Rangers had to wait past midnight to see if they would win the President’s Trophy, awarded to the team with the most overall points. Vancouver, also with 109 points, was hosting Edmonton.
“There’s a big trophy at the end of the line,” said Dan Girardi. “Everyone realizes what we have ahead of us.”