LOS ANGELES — Antti Raanta made 30 saves Saturday night as the Rangers lowered their magic number to clinch a Stanley Cup playoff spot to two points with a 3-0 victory over the Kings.
They have 96 points with seven games left, starting Sunday night in Anaheim, when Henrik Lundqvist will return after missing eight games with a hip sprain.
But if Raanta’s fourth shutout of the season was his last game for a while — with Lundqvist expected to play all but one game as the season winds down — the Finnish goalie made it count.
“He made all of the timely saves tonight,’’ coach Alain Vigneault said. “We had a few turnovers and they had some Grade-A looks. The difference was obviously from that end, and we were able to score a timely power-play goal.”
J.T. Miller said of Raanta, “We had to match their physicality, but he was our best player tonight. The game could have broken open early but he came up big, kept it knotted up.”
Said Raanta, “The last couple games, I’ve been playing maybe a little bit too aggressive, a little bit all over the place. I just tried to fix it today, be a little more inside the crease and just let the puck come to you. It worked out pretty good. Our guys made some huge blocks at the end.”
Derek Stepan snapped a scoreless tie at 13:02 of the second period with his 14th goal. Mats Zuccarello won a battle on the right boards and fed the point, where Brendan Smith fired a shot off the end boards. The carom came to an open Stepan, to Kings goalie Jonathan Quick’s left, and Stepan quickly buried the puck.
After Andy Andreoff high-sticked Pavel Buchnevich in the face, drawing a four-minute penalty at 1:46 of the third period, the Rangers extended the lead four seconds later. Mika Zibanejad won a faceoff, went to the high slot and appeared to tip Ryan McDonagh’s long, low wrister that went through Quick’s pads. But McDonagh was awarded the goal.
Rick Nash’s empty-netter sealed it with 1:08 left. It was his third goal in the last three games and 21st overall.
Dan Girardi picked up an assist on the empty-netter, getting the puck out from behind the Rangers’ net to start the play. “I’m fairly happy with the game,’’ said Girardi, who returned after being sidelined with an ankle injury. “You miss 12 games, and this is a really physical team, I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect. A couple marathon shifts didn’t help. For the most part, we stuck with it and had two big penalty kills in the third.”
Raanta came into the game 2-0-1 against the Kings, with a 1.97 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. He had allowed one goal or fewer in two of his three appearances against them. Quick had allowed two or fewer goals in seven straight, so a tight match wasn’t unexpected.
After a scoreless first period in which the Rangers had one shot on Quick in the first 6 1⁄2 minutes, the Kings dominated puck possession in the first five minutes of the second, and Raanta had to stop seven shots.
It was a tough-luck night for Michael Grabner. In the last five minutes of the first, he missed wide right on two close-in attempts, the first on a breakaway and the second while standing at the left post. With 1:50 left in the second, he was sprung for another solo dash. Instead of shooting, he deked and tried a low backhander, which Quick denied with his left pad. Sitting on the bench, Grabner kicked the boards in frustration. He also missed an empty net with Quick pulled.