With time slipping away, the New York Rangers appeared destined for a long night by the television, hoping some other team would put them into the postseason.
Then came one timely bounce off the boards, and another off a post. Just like that, the Rangers pushed themselves back into the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Captain Ryan Callahan scored 2:55 into overtime, and New York rallied to clinch a third straight playoff berth by beating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 on Thursday night.
Brad Richards tied it for the Rangers with 2:57 left in regulation after New York blew an early 2-0 lead and fell behind already-eliminated Carolina.
”We just kept on playing, scored an ugly one, and couldn’t be more fitting than the guy who scored the winner,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. ”Funny how the hockey gods work in these type of situations.”
Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard staked the Rangers to the lead in the first period, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 18 shots for New York, the second New York team this week to clinch a playoff spot on Carolina’s ice.
The Rangers jumped over the rival Islanders — who did it Tuesday night — and moved into seventh place in the East with one game left.
Jiri Tlusty had two goals, and Tuomo Ruutu also scored for Carolina, which played without injured forward Alexander Semin. He sat out after sustaining a concussion that will also sideline him for the season finale at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Dan Ellis finished with 34 saves for Carolina.
The Rangers pushed this one into overtime with a bizarre goal. Richards uncorked a shot from the blue line that bounced hard off the end boards and clicked off Ellis’ right skate and into his own net.
”There’s times that we haven’t worked for our bounces,” Ellis said. ”Tonight I think we did work for our bounces and we just got one against us.”
All of a sudden, the Rangers had hope.
”We know that we’re right there to get that next point and advance in the playoffs,” Callahan said.
He took care of that himself, ending it by scooping up the puck by the boards, skating in on Ellis and snapping it toward the far side. The puck glanced off the post on its way in and sent the Rangers spilling onto the ice in celebration.
”That was just a sick play from start to finish,” Lundqvist said, ”and it’s a good thing to see your captain put it home and put us in the playoffs.”
It capped a remarkable reversal after the Hurricanes led for most of the third period.
”We could be a team that just goes out there and just finishes up these last few games, but the respect of the league and everything, we’re going out to win every game,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. ”Our guys went out and did that.”
Tlusty’s second goal was scored 49 seconds into the third period and put the Hurricanes up 3-2.
It was Carolina’s only shot of the first 18 1/2 minutes of the period, and it came after the Hurricanes — who have piled up huge shot totals all season — managed just four in the second period yet scored on two.
Tlusty pulled Carolina within 2-1 when he scored on the power play 4:51 into the second. Ruutu tied it 3 minutes later with a wrist shot from the circle.
That put all the pressure on the Rangers, who were trying to avoid their second straight loss to a non-playoff team from the Southeast Division with a postseason spot on the line for them.
New York was in danger of dropping below the postseason cutoff if it lost to Carolina.
The Hurricanes had long since been eliminated from playoff contention, so for them, this game was meaningful for a different reason.
Forward Jared Staal, recalled from the minor leagues on Wednesday, joined two of his older brothers in the starting lineup against the Rangers — fourth brother Marc’s team — though he has been out since early March after taking a puck to his eye.
It is the 10th time that three brothers played for the same team in the same season in North American major pro sports history and the first time since the Statsnys did it for the Quebec Nordiques in 1985, according to STATS.
”It was kind of surreal,” Jared Staal said.
It didn’t take Stepan long to remind everyone that this was a hockey game, not a family reunion. He streaked down the center of the ice, took a cross-ice pass from Carl Hagelin and slipped the puck between Ellis’ pads at 3:19.
Brassard made it 2-0 with 4:08 left in the first when he slipped unchecked behind the net, scooped up a loose puck and whipped it into an open net.
But that was it until Richards and Callahan came up with their big goals.
”I’m really happy with the way we just stayed with it and found a way to win it,” Tortorella said.
Notes: D Michael Del Zotto and Hagelin both had two assists for the Rangers. … Carolina D Jay Harrison didn’t return after leaving with a bloody face. He was struck by a wrist shot by Callahan 2:36 into the second. Harrison wasn’t wearing a visor. … Carolina D Justin Faulk was voted team MVP, and RW Patrick Dwyer won the Josef Vasicek Award for cooperation with local media in voting by the local Professional Hockey Writers Association chapter. … Carolina D Tim Gleason was selected by his teammates as the Steve Chiasson Award winner for determination and dedication.