After the Rangers had whipped the Devils 5-2 this afternoon to keep their playoff hopes alive, some players gathered to watch Tampa face Carolina tonight in a season finale that would determine their post-season fate.
“The superstitious guys stayed away,” said Rangers captain Chris Drury, who was hoping that the Lightning would beat the Hurricanes, who could have eliminated the Blueshirts with a win, and give the Rangers the eighth-seed in the East.
“Everyone was pretty cautious,” said Drury, who just hours earlier had scored to tie the Devils at one at 3:14 of the first period, a goal that sparked the team in his first game back from knee surgery on Feb. 11. “Watching that game next to Henrik (Lundqvist) was something I don’t want to ever do again. He was pretty intense.”
In the end, Tampa beat Carolina 6-2, and the Rangers could celebrate and prepare for a first-round series against the No. 1 seed Capitals, starting in Washington on Wednesday or Thursday.
The Rangers finished with an 11-4-1 run, 44 wins and 93 points, but stumbled when they had controlled their fate, losing 3-0 to the already-eliminated Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night, allowing the Hurricanes, with a chance to edge them by virtue of the NHL’s tiebreaking system.
Rangers coach John Tortorella, who knows executives in the Tampa organization, had said after the Rangers win that he was confident that the team “would play the right way (tonight). That’s good for us and good for the league.” And Tampa, with nothing to play for having clinched the fifth seed, came through.
The Rangers (44-33-5) were 3-1 against the Caps this season, but Drury, a playoff veteran in his 13th season, said the regular season record is nothing to bank on. “I think sometimes it can work in your favor,” Drury said last night. “It really is a whole new season, but the successes we’ve had can help. In the last weeks they’ve rested guys, so we’re going to have to be ready.”
But for one night, the Rangers were excited. Allan Walsh, the agent for Ruslan Fedotenko, received an e-mail that simply read. “Yessssssss!!!!!!!”
At the Garden, the Rangers were down 2-1 after the first period, knowing that had to soldier on. Vinny Prospal, Drury, Bryan McCabe and Marc Staal spoke in the room and the Rangers rallied, scoring three times in the second period to lead 4-2 after 40 minutes.
Wojtek Wolski tied the game with his 12th of the season, a low shot from the right circle that went between Martin Bordeur’s left pad and the post at 1:52 of the second. Rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s high wrister---his first career goal---put the Rangers ahead at 11:59 and Brandon Prust’s drive to the net to knock in a rebound of Brandon Dubinsky’s shot at 16:04 gave the Blueshirts a two-goal cushion. The Rangers finished a league-leading 29-0-0 when leading after two periods this season. Artem Anisimov’s tape to tape feed to Vinny Prospal on a 2 on 1 at 10:49 of the third made it 5-2.
“It’s a weird feeling right now,” Lundqvist, who finished with 24 saves, said after the game. “I don’t know if it’s going to be enough. It’s hard to be satisfied or disappointed right now. But if we do get in, we’ll be a tough out.”
All I can say is, what a wild final week, full of emotional swings.
The playoff schedule will be released Sunday at 10 AM.
Rangers are off tomorrow, practice 11 a.m. Monday.
we'll have a lkive chat Tuesday and please follow me and Newsday's Arthur Staple and Katie Strang through the first round here and on Twitter for gavel-to-gavel coverage....