The Rangers were able to keep their playoff hopes alive after they beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 Saturday afternoon at the Garden. But the win still came with anxiety as the Blueshirts’ playoff fate was put in the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
All the Rangers could do after they defeated the Devils was wait for Saturday night’s matchup between the Canes and the Tampa Bay Lightning to take place. A Carolina victory would have tied the Rangers with 93 points, yet the Hurricanes would be awarded the tiebreaker because they have more regulation/overtime victories than the Rangers.
Luckily for the Rangers, the wait and their hard-fought victory over the Devils were all worth it as the Canes fell to the Lightning securing the Rangers’ playoff berth.
While having your playoff fate out of your hands is not the ideal situation for any team, the Rangers made the best of their situation by playing hard, smart hockey against their across the river rivals.
“It was do or die today, and we did what we had to do,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “We played a great game and we got the points.”
Starting off a little shaky, the Rangers fell behind early in the period after Nick Palmieri’s deflection of Ilya Kovalchuk’s shot found its way through Lundqvist’s legs just 2:03 into the first.
But a big boost for the Rangers was the return of Captain Chris Drury to the lineup. Drury, who did not play a game since Feb. 3, helped the Blueshirts not only through his leadership on the ice but also by scoring his first goal of the season to tie the game at one 71 seconds after Nick Palmieri’s goal.
“Everyone that dresses and puts the gear on wants to contribute,” Drury said after the game. “Obviously I hadn’t had [a goal] and I am just glad that it came at a good time. I would certainly hope that me being in here and being around would help the guys, at least in a small part.”
The Rangers won the game the same way they won most of their games this season, through a total team effort. Fourteen Rangers tallied points and Lundqvist stayed strong between the pipes collecting 24 saves in the game.
The Devils looked to have the advantage early in the game after Palmieri’s deflection dribbled passed Lundqvist and Kovalchuk scored with 41.8 seconds left in the first to put the Devils on top. It seemed the Devils had the momentum going into the second period, but the Rangers second period turned out to be their strongest and most productive.
Wojtek Wolski tied the game at two less than two minutes into the second period when he shot the puck past Martin Brodeur on his short side. Wolski received a pass from Ruslan Fedotenko then broke down the left wing on a 2-on-1 with Derek Stepan. His shot deflected off Henrik Tallinder’s stick and into the net.
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was the hero of the game as he notched the game-winning goal — his first of his NHL career — at 11:52 in the second.
“It made it sweeter that we got the win, for sure,” McDonagh said about the goal. “It was a good feeling. I have been thinking about it for a long time, when it was going to come. It turned out to be a game-winner and helped the guys out today.”
With the goal, McDonagh became the 19th Ranger to score a game-winning goal this year. This statistic is just one example of how the entire team has contributed to its success the entire season.
“That’s the way we are and that’s the way we’ve won all year,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “I think that’s helped our room because I don’t think there’s been any real game-breaker for us. It’s been about the group. And I think that helps build a team.”
The Rangers held the Devils scoreless throughout the rest of the game and they were able to notch two more goals from Brandon Prust and Vinny Prospal.
Prust scored the third goal of the second period after he jumped off the bench and charged the net to chip in Brandon Dubinsky’s rebound. And after a relatively dull start to the third period, Prospal closed out the scoring finishing a 2-on-1 rush by converting Artem Anisimov’s feed with 9:11 remaining to play in the game.
From that point on The Garden Faithful diverted from their usual “Let’s go Rangers” and “Hen-rik” chants to “Let’s go Lightning” because they knew the only thing standing in the way of the Rangers making the playoffs were the Carolina Hurricanes.
With the win the Rangers became the only NHL team to finish the regular season with a perfect 29-0-0 record when leading after the second period.
“We are doing things the right way the way we are building this team,” said Tortorella. “I think it is very important for this team to get in [the playoffs] because that is part of growing as a team, getting that experience in the playoffs.”
Tortorella and his team will get the chance to continue building as the Rangers will face the No. 1 seeded Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.