New York Rangers can clinch first playoff berth since 2016-17 with win over Senators
The New York Rangers are going to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season. They could have backed in if division-leading Carolina would have knocked off the Islanders in regulation on Friday night, but Kyle Palmieri’s goal with 14.1 seconds in the third gave the Isles a win.
However, 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.
After producing a playoff-caliber win in a postseason-like environment against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night, they will need to stay focused and avoid a potential trap game.
New York Rangers on verge of clinching a playoff spot
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.
“Every year when you play you aim for the playoffs, you aim to win,” Mika Zibanejad said via the team’s YouTube channel. “It’s been worth the wait and it’s been fun to be here even though there’s been a couple of tough years… it’s a good feeling.”
New York Rangers already in playoff-mode
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.
“He knew Motte didn’t see him,” Gerard Gallant relayed on the team’s YouTube channel. “He was in a vulnerable position and I think [Angello] took advantage of it.”
The Penguins are a very likely first round opponent which the Rangers will be prepared for.
“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.”
Rangers injury update
The Rangers announced on Friday that Filip Chytil was “day-to-day.”
Chytil, 22, has registered 19 points in 60 games this season while being hampered with injuries he’s tried to play through. As of late, the big center has been extremely noticeable with and without the puck.
Good news did come out yesterday as Kaapo Kakko was back at practice.
Kakko has been out since January 21 with an upper-body injury but finally skated with the team at practice. He was a third line centered by Barclay Goodrow in place of the injured Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere on the opposite flank.
Kevin Rooney, who has been out since March 2 with an upper-body injury may also be close to returning.
“They looked really good out there and they’ve been skating a long time,” Gallant said. “Conditioning is not an issue. We’ll see what the trainers say and we’ll find out this afternoon what the plan is.”
Both players are possible for today’s contest at the Garden.
Senators playing out the season
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.”
NHL Scores and Highlights
The St. Louis Blues picked up a big divisional win over the Minnesota Wild. Meanwhile the Islanders keep their slim playoff hopes alive and the Bruins hold off the Bolts. Read more.
–Field Level Media contributed to this article.