The Rangers' Brandon Prust reacts after scoring a goal against...

The Rangers' Brandon Prust reacts after scoring a goal against the Devils during the second period. (Apr. 9, 2011) Credit: AP

After the Rangers beat the Devils, 5-2, Saturday afternoon to keep their playoff hopes alive, some players gathered to watch Tampa Bay face Carolina last night in a season finale that would determine the Rangers' postseason fate.

"The superstitious guys stayed away," said Rangers captain Chris Drury, who hoped the Lightning would beat the Hurricanes -- who would have eliminated the Blueshirts with a win -- and give the Rangers the eighth seed in the East.

"Everyone was pretty cautious," said Drury, whose goal just hours earlier had tied the score at 1 at 3:14 of the first period, a goal that sparked the team in his first game back from Feb. 11 knee surgery. "Watching that game next to Henrik [Lundqvist] was something I don't want to ever do again. He was pretty intense."

Tampa Bay stunned Carolina, 6-2, and now the Rangers will prepare for a first-round series against the top-seeded Capitals, starting in Washington on Wednesday or Thursday.

The Rangers finished with an 11-4-1 run, totaling 44 wins and 93 points, but stumbled when they still were in control of their fate. When they lost, 3-0, to the already-eliminated Atlanta Thrashers Thursday night, it opened the door for the Hurricanes, who owned head-to-head tiebreakers over the Rangers.

Rangers coach John Tortorella, who knows executives in Tampa Bay's organization, said after the Rangers' win that he was confident that the Lightning "would play the right way. That's good for us and good for the league."

And Tampa Bay, with nothing to play for (the Lightning was locked into 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," he said Saturday 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. Then Vinny Prospal, Drury, Bryan McCabe and Marc Staal spoke in the room and the Rangers rallied, scoring three times in the second period to go ahead 4-2 after 40 minutes.

Wojtek Wolski tied the score with his 12th of the season, a low shot from the right circle that went between Martin Brodeur'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.

Artem Anisimov's tape-to- tape feed to Prospal on a two-on-one at 10:49 of the third made it 5-2. Lundqvist made 24 saves.

The Rangers finished a league-leading 29-0-0 when leading after two periods this season.

Late in the third period, Rangers fans began chanting "Let's go, Lightning!" And Saturday night, the Lightning struck for the Rangers and their fans.

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