ST. PAUL, Minn. - It had to be some type of hockey karma that J.T. Miller scored the goal that clinched the Metropolitan Division title for the Rangers in their 3-2 victory over the Wild on Thursday night.
Miller already was playing with a sore and stiff neck and a cut on his nose after a violent cross-check from Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien on Tuesday that drew a four-game suspension. And at 15:52 of the second period Thursday night, he was bloodied by Ryan Suter's high stick.
"I've taken a little bit of a beating here lately," said Miller, whose goal-mouth tip-in of Ryan McDonagh's shot at 6:48 of the third period -- just 55 seconds after the Wild tied the score at 2 -- wound up giving the Rangers their 49th win and 105 points. "I'd like to go through a game where I don't get hit in the head."
But Miller will take goals any way he can get them, and his 10th of the season secured home ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs. At least temporarily, it also gave the Rangers the No. 1 slot in the Eastern Conference.
"I thought we battled really hard, especially in the third period," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 26 saves in his third start since missing two months with a vascular injury in his neck. "We responded right after their goal, and after that, it was a matter of how hard we wanted to work. We really paid the price to get this win."
In the big picture, the Rangers, who also won a gritty 3-2 game in Winnipeg to start this two-game road swing, will savor the division crown with five more games to play before the tournament.
"It's an accomplishment, something we should be proud of,'' Marc Staal said. "It's a long, grinding season and a talented division. Our goal is to be playing our best hockey near the end of the season. We still want to finish as high as we can."
The Wild (44-26-7, 95 points) was far from a pushover. Minnesota has climbed into a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, largely because of goalie Devan Dubnyk's stellar play. The Wild had won five straight games and seven of eight and was 11-4 in its last 15 at Xcel Energy Center.
A deflection by Dom Moore at 2:09 and Rick Nash's career high-tying 41st goal at 14:37 gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead after an impressive first period.
Then the Wild -- which hadn't played in four days -- revved into another gear.
Matt Dumba's backhander into traffic caromed off Jason Pominville's left skate and in at 5:24 of the second, and the Wild then killed four power plays, including a short five-on-three to end the period. After a string of saves by Lundqvist in the third, Dumba's long shot caromed off the end boards to the right post, where Thomas Vanek had a gimme for his 21st at 5:53 to tie it at 2.
But in the end, the Rangers, who have the best road record in the NHL at 26-11-2, found a way to win, as they have most of the season. They've collected 47 points since the All-Star break, the second most in the NHL.
"I liked our push after they scored [in the third]. Step's line came back with a real good effort, nice tip in front by J.T," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We've solidified home ice in our division and now we'll see if we can get it done in our conference."