NEW YORK – The Rangers no longer control their playoff destiny. It was taken away from them by the 12th place Atlanta Thrashers, who have become the wild card in a postseason that won’t include them.
Ninth-place Carolina (89 points) hosts Atlanta tomorrow. If the Hurricanes win, they’ll tie the Rangers with 91 points. Carolina holds the tiebreaker over New York, so if they win both of their remaining two games, the Hurricanes will claim the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
“All we’ve lost tonight is the control,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “You have to hope for help, and we’ll go to work tomorrow and get ready to play. We have to win our next game. What we did tonight is we lost control. We’re going to have to have help from someone else.”
“We understood what was at stake coming into the game tonight,” Brandon Dubinsky said after getting just over 18 minutes of ice time. “We just didn’t get the job done. I’d love to give you all the answers, but it’s over. We can’t get the three hours back, so we just have to move forward, be ready to practice hard tomorrow, and be ready to play Saturday afternoon.”
The Rangers (43-33-5, 8th place) play their final game of the regular season Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden at 12:30 p.m. against the 11th place Devils, who are 27-9-3 in their last 39 games.
“They’re not in [the playoffs]. They’re going to do everything they can to spoil,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of the Devils. “They’re going to do everything they can to not see us in the playoffs. Also, they want to end the season on a good note. It’s going to be an exciting game, big game again like last year. Obviously we want to be in a better position going into game 82, but we don’t have a choice.”
There are still many ways for the Rangers to get in the playoffs, but nearly all of them begin with Carolina needing to lose in either regulation or overtime in one of their last two games against the Thrashers and Tampa Bay (7 p.m. on Saturday). Unless Carolina loses both of their remaining games, New York will be forced to beat New Jersey to advance into the tournament.
If the Hurricanes claim only two points in their final two games, the Rangers can clinch a playoff spot with an overtime loss to the Devils, but if the ‘Canes get three points, the Rangers will have to beat New Jersey to advance into the post-season.
The Rangers can also clinch a spot with a win and the Sabres losing their final two games against Philadelphia and Columbus in regulation.
“We lost the game tonight; we still have one more game to go,” said Vinny Prospal. “We have to prepare ourselves for Saturday. We put ourselves in that position right now. We have to live with that.”
Déjà vu for Blueshirts
The Rangers will play a do-or-die Game No. 82 for the second straight season, after being eliminated in a shootout on the season’s final day by Philadelphia last season.
“The pain that we felt after we lost that game and we knew we were done, that’s still something that’s going to light the fire and burn hot,” said Dubinsky. “We just have to make sure we’re prepared and play the best game that this team can play.”
“It’s not really disbelief, it’s disappointment,” said Brian Boyle. “Hopefully it’s going to be turned into motivation for tomorrow and then for Saturday. We’re going to come to work tomorrow for sure. I’m sure we’ll be upbeat, because it’s going to be a fun game. There’s a lot on the line, but those are the fun games – that’s why you play.”
“We felt this coming for the past three weeks,” said Tortorella. “We’ve been on a pretty good run, but Carolina keeps on winning, Buffalo keeps on winning, so it doesn’t surprise me at all. The game itself [tonight] surprises me, but it doesn’t surprise me that it’s going to take us 82.”
Matt Gilroy made his NHL debut playing as a forward in Ryan Callahan’s absence. Gilroy skated only 11 shifts, played only 9:01, and took one shot on goal.
Atlanta opened the scoring with two goals in 15 seconds during the second period. Rob Schremp scored 7:42 into the second, sending a shot over Lundqvist’s right shoulder, and Andrew Ladd split the Rangers defense and scored on a breakaway off the ensuing faceoff. Eric Boulton scored Atlanta’s third goal at 4:19 of the third.
The Rangers were 0-4 on the power play, and are 1-27 (3.7%) over their last eight games.
Brandon Prust won the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, announced before the game. The award is named after NYPD detective Steven McDonald, who was paralyzed from the neck down in the line of duty after being shot on July 12, 1986. The Rangers – and McDonald – have given the award every season since 1987-’88.