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Rangers play spoiler, end Hurricanes’ playoff hopes

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist blocks the Hurricanes' Jeff

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist blocks the Hurricanes' Jeff Skinner during the second period in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, March 31, 2018. Credit: AP / Gerry Broome

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes faced off against the Rangers Saturday night knowing their playoff hopes had almost certainly reached their end. The Hurricanes’ tragic number was one point, meaning a loss to the Rangers — or a point gained by the Devils in their game against the Islanders — would extinguish their hopes officially.

Henrik Lundqvist made 40 saves and goals from defenseman Ryan Sproul (his first as a Ranger) and Kevin Hayes (shorthanded) were enough for the Rangers to win, 2-1, at PNC Arena and put the Hurricanes out of their misery a few minutes before the Devils beat the Islanders, 4-3.

The Rangers snapped a three-game losing streak.

Coach Alain Vigneault took no special joy in eliminating the Hurricanes from postseason contention.

“Both teams right now are battling and wanting to play the right way on the ice,’’ Vigneault said. “For me, taking out Carolina has no significance whatsoever. It was about us responding after the third period we had [Friday in a 7-3 loss to Tampa Bay), and we did respond. And that’s positive.’’

For Lundqvist, it was his first victory since he made 50 saves in a 3-1 win March 2 in Calgary on his 36th birthday.

“We talked about it the other night,’’ Lundqvist said. “It doesn’t matter where you are in the standings. You play this game to win; it’s our job to leave everything you’ve got out there and it was kind of my message to the room before we went out: ‘We have one week to go here, and we’ve been talking about making the most of this, and it starts with your preparation, and you want to win games.’ ’’

The Rangers won this one because they withstood an early charge by Carolina in the first period — mostly because of Lundqvist’s play. They also withstood more than two-and-a-half minutes after Carolina pulled their goaltender for the extra skater. That included having to play the final 1:14 of the game down two men, after Hayes was sent off for a slashing penalty.

Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei said the team worked on improving their five-on-six play after Wednesday’s loss, when they allowed Washington to score the tying goal with 1:05 after having pulled their goalie.

“We looked at a lot of video of that game,’’ Skjei said. “We’ve been practicing six-on-five in practice and when it comes to game situations, to give one up like that in Washington definitely stinks, so we went back to the drawing board and we felt confident we had a good system in place and a few big plays with our sticks at the end.”

Filip Chytil, the 18-year-old center who scored his first NHL goal Friday in the loss to Tampa Bay, nearly had a second in the first period, but was denied by Carolina goalie Cam Ward on a first period breakaway, then on another shot from in close early in the second.

Shortly after that, though, Sproul scored his first goal as a Ranger when he skated down the middle to take a pass from Paul Carey and finish from point-blank range at 3:01 of the second. Hayes made it 2-0, with a shorthanded goal, 10 seconds after Mika Zibanejad was sent to the box for a tripping penalty. Jesper Fast set up the goal with a pretty two-on-one feed.

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