The New York Rangers produced a playoff-caliber win in a postseason-like environment against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.
With a win on Saturday night, the Rangers officially can begin planning for the playoffs.
The Rangers will look to clinch a postseason berth when they host the Ottawa Senators in the final game of the season between the Eastern Conference rivals.
Both teams were off Friday after playing at home Thursday night, when the Rangers cruised to a 3-0 win over the Penguins and the Senators fell to the Nashville Predators 3-2.
With their second straight win, the Rangers (46-20-6, 98 points) remained two points behind the first-place Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division and increased their lead over the third-place Penguins to six points in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. New York has a game in hand on Carolina.
The Rangers haven’t advanced to the main playoff bracket since 2017. New York fell to the Hurricanes in a best-of-five qualifying round series following the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, when the postseason consisted of 24 teams instead of 16.
The potential first-round preview Thursday included a May-like approach by the Rangers and intensity on the ice. Igor Shesterkin stopped all 30 shots he faced for New York, which hadn’t allowed as many as 30 shots since the Devils produced 31 shots in a 7-4 New Jersey win on March 22.
The Rangers were also displeased after Penguins forward Anthony Angello delivered a hard hit to forward Tyler Motte in the third period. Motte immediately exited with what New York on Friday termed a “significant” upper body injury.
“For the most part, I think it was hard through the whistles,” said Rangers forward Frank Vatrano, who scored the game’s first goal in the second period. “Then it got a little chippy there toward the end.”
While the Senators (26-38-6, 58 points) are assured of missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season, the game Saturday will provide another chance for Ottawa to build on its recent improvement.
The loss to the Predators snapped a three-game winning streak for the Senators, who have collected points in six of their last 10 games (5-4-1). Ottawa led playoff-bound Nashville 2-1 in the third period before giving up two goals in a span of fewer than five minutes.
The game-winner was credited to Ryan Johansen, who scored on the power play with 7:22 left and just seconds after he appeared to raise his stick following his faceoff win against Joshua Norris.
“I thought the guys battled hard,” said Mathieu Joseph, who scored the Senators’ first goal in the second period. “It was a hard game. We knew they needed a win and they played hard from the get-go. Some unfortunate bounces for us, but I really liked the effort from the guys.”
–Field Level Media