Perhaps it wasn't the way they had planned, but in the first year under coach Alain Vigneault and his staff, the Rangers have qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Rangers (43-31-5, 91 points) were idle Monday night but secured a postseason berth when the Devils (34-29-16, 84 points) lost to Calgary, 1-0. It is the eighth time in the last nine seasons that the Rangers have made the cut in the Eastern Conference. They reached this position by going 7-2-1 in the last 10 and 10-5-1 in the last 16.
Seeding has yet to be determined. In the new format, the second- and third-place finishers in the Metropolitan Division face each other in the first round.
The second-place Rangers have three games to play, starting Tuesday night at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Flyers, in third with 89 points, have four games remaining. The Blue Jackets have 87 points with four games left.
The Rangers prepared for the final week by moving Martin St. Louis back to the right of Derek Stepan and Rick Nash in practice. Vigneault hopes the trio can establish some familiarity that can carry over to the power play and generate scoring chances. That's what the line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot, the second power-play unit, has been able to accomplish, although the power play is in a 5-for-56 tailspin.
Jesper Fast, who had 17 goals and 34 points in 48 games for Hartford and was described by assistant general managers Jeff Gorton and Jim Schoenfeld as "the best player on the ice" when they watched the WolfPack in person on Sunday, was back with the team.
After recording two goals and an assist Sunday, the right wing skated with Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin, a line that should stick against Carolina. Fast was a plus-14 and had eight power-play goals in the AHL.
Fast, who has been playing 20 minutes a night, said he is "more ready mentally" than in October, when he played eight games in place of the injured Hagelin, and feels more comfortable on the smaller ice surface after his years in Sweden.
"I like his hockey sense, his speed, his willingness to play at both ends of the rink," Vigneault said. "For the past month, I've been told over and over that he's playing really, really well."
Notes & quotes: Chris Kreider, who underwent surgery to repair a break in his left hand on March 28, worked out off-ice wearing a soft black brace . . . Ryan McDonagh (left shoulder), also worked out and Vigneault said he is "coming along."