The New York Rangers eliminated the New Jersey Devils from playoff contention in their last meeting nearly a week ago. While the Devils can't exact that kind of revenge Saturday, they do have the chance to play a role in whether the Rangers get a more favorable first-round matchup.
A game after clinching a playoff spot with a late comeback, plenty will still be unsettled for the Rangers when they take on the Devils at Madison Square Garden in their season finale.
New York (25-18-4) guaranteed its up-and-down season would extend past this weekend with a 4-3 overtime victory over Carolina on Thursday. The Rangers blew a 2-0 lead and trailed before Brad Richards scored with 2:57 left in regulation on a shot that hit the boards behind the net and went in off goaltender Dan Ellis.
Captain Ryan Callahan then scored on New York's only shot of OT, settling off a celebration of his team's third straight playoff berth.
" ... now we're in the playoffs and that's all that matters," Callahan said. "It's a new season now. We take these last two weeks where we've been playing good hockey into the playoffs, and we'll be a dangerous team."
Due to the tightly bunched postseason picture, the Rangers might not have any idea of where they'll finish or who they'll play until the end of the weekend, as they could end up anywhere from sixth through eighth.
The only thing the Rangers can control is the result of their finale, and it might benefit them significantly to not let up. An eighth-place finish means a first-round matchup with high-powered Pittsburgh, which won the season series 4-1-0.
Though numerous scenarios abound, New York can guarantee avoiding the Penguins with a point against the Devils.
For that reason, Henrik Lundqvist could make his 14th straight start rather than getting a game off before the postseason.
"We have one more game and it can still change a lot of things here going into the playoffs, so let's focus on that game," said a smiling Lundqvist, 9-3-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average in the past 13. "I still think it's an important game for us and then we're gonna start thinking about what's ahead, but Saturday first."
Despite their poor season, the Devils may be motivated to defeat the Rangers after last Sunday, when a 4-1 loss to New York knocked the defending Eastern Conference champions from contention. New Jersey (19-18-10) has also been playing well, winning four of five.
The Devils beat Pittsburgh 3-2 on Thursday in their home finale, and they'll now try to avoid a third consecutive loss to the Rangers.
"It's too bad (Saturday's) game is not going to mean anything," said forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who has points in his last four overall and one goal and four assists in his past five versus New York. "It would have been more fun if the game meant something, but I think it's great for the league that (the Rangers) are in because they are a franchise with a lot of history.
"They have good players and deserve to be in. We're just going in there to try our best to win the last game."
One negative that came out of Thursday's game for New York was an apparent leg injury to forward Ryane Clowe, who had to be helped off the ice and did not return. His status is uncertain.