NEW YORK – The Rangers still haven’t won a Presidents’ Trophy since 1994.
Not that it particularly matters.
Sure, it would have been a nice feather in their cap to add a Regular Season Champions banner to the Atlantic Division Champions banner that will go up into the rafters before next season’s first home game. But, does it really matter? The only way the Presidents’ Trophy means anything once the postseason begins is if the top-seeds in both conferences advance into the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Rangers (51-24-7, 109 points), who fell flat in a 4-1 loss to Washington in the regular season finale, enter the postseason as the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and will face eighth-seeded Ottawa (41-31-10, 91 points) in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
“Our desperation level and our game will be a lot harder on Thursday,” said Rangers center Brad Richards.
“We wish we would have had a better showing tonight, but we’re still first and we worked hard to get there,” said Mike Rupp. “Now the work begins. Anything that we’ve worked for, you just try to put yourself in the best scenario and the best situation you can be in. We did that, now we have to go out and execute the rest.”
No matter the result of Saturday’s tilt, the most important aspect is that every player came out of regular season finale healthy and ready for the real season.
“It’s a good feeling that the regular season is over,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “Last few weeks, you’ve been thinking more and more about what’s ahead of you and the playoffs. It’s a good feeling to finally get prepared for this. I’m excited.”
The Rangers are 1-2-1 against the Senators this season. The shootout loss came when the Rangers started the season 3-3-3, and one of the regulation losses came during their mini-slump in March.
“It’s just a total different feeling come Thursday,” Richards said. “It’s just a little different when that second season starts. We’re not even thinking – this is already out of our minds. This is the last time we’ll talk about it.”
“There’s a big trophy at the end of the line, I think that really makes you play the right way and play hard,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “The season’s over now. I think everyone realizes what we have ahead of us. We have three full days of practice, I think our mindset’s going to be back in the right way after that.”
What a difference a season makes. Last year, the Rangers snuck into the playoffs on the season’s final day before falling to the top-seeded Capitals. It’s that position that allows Rangers coach John Tortorella to be highly confident going into the playoffs.
“No matter who we play, because I’m sure that’s what everyone’s going to talk about; we should have played Washington, now we have Ottawa, you don’t go about your business that way,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “This team here, the New York Rangers, can beat anybody in this league.”
Game One is Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.