NEWARK - Check off another accomplishment. The Rangers beat the Devils, 4-2, Tuesday night to win the Presidents' Trophy for the first time since the 1993-94 season, when they won their last Stanley Cup. They clinched home ice throughout the playoffs after their fifth straight win.
Finishing first overall is no guarantee of raising the Stanley Cup. In 28 years, Presidents' Trophy winners have done that just eight times.
"No doubt that [finishing first] gives you confidence . . . ," Marc Staal said, "[but] everyone knows that winning games in the playoffs is 10 times harder than winning in the regular season. It is Season Two."
For the Rangers (52-21-7, 111 points), what remains uncertain is who their first-round opponent will be. They host Ottawa tomorrow night and visit Washington on Saturday.
After the game, which was finally tucked away on Carl Hagelin's empty-netter with 1:48 to play, players did have some time to reflect on their success.
"More than any other year, I feel that everybody's confident within their role. That's the biggest thing," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "It's tough to find a group that is willing to put a lot of the personal stuff aside and put the betterment of the team first. We've got a great mix of veteran guys who've been around and won before and that attitude rubs off through the lineup."
It is the third time that an Alain Vigneault-coached team has won the Presidents' Trophy. "I'm very proud of our group, but we all know we're going to be judged by what we do in the playoffs," Vigneault said.
The Rangers' fourth line provided a 3-1 lead with 9:19 left, when Dominic Moore's sharp-angle shot was tipped past Corey Schneider by James Sheppard, a healthy scratch for the previous three games who dressed because Mats Zuccarello was scratched with body soreness.
But the Devils, who played a surprisingly physical game, would not go away, and with 8:28 left, Steve Bernier managed to get a bouncer past Cam Talbot (19 saves) on a wraparound to make it a one-goal game again.
Starting the third period, the Rangers had outshot the Devils 33-10, and had 1:05 left on a carry-over power play. Rick Nash rang a blast off the crossbar, but the Blueshirts were 1-for-7 with the man-advantage.
At 10:21, Jacob Josefson cleared the puck over the glass, and on the Rangers' fifth power play, Schneider made an athletic save on McDonagh. When Josefson went back to the box for a hold at 15:36, the sixth power play stalled and the seventh came with 55.7 seconds to play in the period.
The Rangers scored twice in 47 seconds to take a 2-0 lead in the first period. At 13:45, Hagelin pressured Eric Gelinas behind the cage, and Kevin Hayes swept in on the loose puck and beat Schneider. McDonagh provided a 2-0 lead on a power play, as his shot through a Nash screen eluded Schneider at 14:32.