It may be too little, too late, for the Rangers to make the playoffs, but the Blueshirts burned the New Jersey Devils 5-2 in the regular-season finale this afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
With the win, the Rangers’ 44th of the year, they closed the season on an 11-4-1 run and have 93 points. The Carolina Hurricanes, who have 91 points, need a win tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning to capture the eighth and final berth in the Eastern Conference and eliminate the Rangers.
If the Hurricanes win in regulation, overtime or a shootout, they will own the tie-breaker in two categories: regulation and overtime wins minus shootouts and most points in the season series, 6-4.
If the Hurricanes lose in regulation, overtime or the shootout, the Rangers will make the post-season and face the No. 1 seed Washington Capitals for the initial two first-round games in D.C. next week.
“It’s a little frustrating how this has played out,” said coach John Tortorella. “First, our inconsistency put us in this spot when we were in control. It’s frustrating when you end up with 44 wins and a team that may end up with 41 (Carolina) gets in and you don’t.”
Down 2-1, the Rangers scored 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,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 24 saves. “I don’t know if it’s going to be enough. It’s hard to be satisfied or disappointed right now. If you look at the amount of wins, that isn’t the problem….Like I said, we played pretty good. Let’s see if we come up short again.”
Ilya Kovalchuk, the best player on the ice, put the Rangers in a hole twice in the first period, once at the beginning and then at the end. At 2:03, his low shot through a screen was tipped by Nick Palmieri past Lundqvist, playing his 26th consecutive game.
Then, captain Chris Drury, skating his first shift since Feb. 3 and knee surgery on Feb. 11, drove the net from the right boards, and while falling, slid a backhander through Brodeur’s pads at 3:14. His first goal of the season woke up the sold-out crowd as well as his teammates, who started throwing their weight around and crashing the net.
“I cannot explain how the bench was when Dru scored,” said Brian Boyle. “I was so happy for the guy. He is our leader and he did just that tonight. We emptied the tank.”
Brodeur’s best save came with less than four minutes to play, when he stoned Ruslan Fedotenko, alone in front on a behind the net pass from Dubinsky, with his left pad. But Kovalchuk struck with 41.8 left, battling around Prospal just above the left circle and beating Lundqvist.
“This team has played great all year,” said Prospal, who also returned from knee surgery to play the final 29 games and had a goal and assist today. “Forty-four wins. If someone tells you that before the season, you would take it because it would probably get you in the playoffs.”
But the Rangers, in a playoff spot since Oct. 29, and seven points ahead of ninth place on March 26, had to rely on the Lightning last night in order to avoid missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year in Game 82.
Notes & Quotes
Tortorella, who knows executives in the Tampa organization, said he was confident that the team “would play the right way (tonight). That’s good for us and good for the league.”….Mats Zuccarello, called up from the AHL, assisted on Drury’s goal, but Tortorella sat him for the last 16:21 of the second and the third...Erik Christensen played just 4:22….Sean Avery and D Steve Eminger were scratched…Matt Gilroy was back on defense after a one-game experiment on right wing…If the NHL used the 3-2-1 international system for regulation wins, overtime wins and shootout wins, the Rangers would have finished in 7th.