The New York Rangers are returning to the playoffs, while the Carolina Hurricanes’ postseason chances are faint at best.
The Rangers attempt to move closer to securing home-ice advantage by beating the Hurricanes for a sixth straight time at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
New York (43-31-5) wasn’t on the ice to clinch a playoff berth Monday, as Calgary beat New Jersey 1-0.
That may have been a relief after the Rangers followed Thursday’s 3-2 shootout loss at Colorado with a regulation defeat by the same scoreline against Ottawa two days later.
New York can now focus on trying to clinch second in the Metropolitan Division. It leads third-place Philadelphia by two points with three games left, though the Flyers have one game in hand.
"It’s about getting the home advantage," said Henrik Lundqvist, who had 31 saves Saturday. "I’d rather look ahead than behind me."
After facing the Hurricanes (34-33-11), the Rangers will host league-worst Buffalo on Thursday before concluding the regular season at Montreal two days later.
While New York has the luxury of preparing for the playoffs, Carolina’s chances are all but mathematically over.
The Hurricanes are seventh in the Eastern Conference’s wild-card race, eight points back of Columbus for the second spot with four games remaining.
Those postseason hopes took a devastating blow with Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Devils after going 3-0-2 over the previous five games.
"I think a lot of guys" played with desperation, coach Kirk Muller said Saturday. "We just didn’t have everybody. It’s too bad, because we had a few good games here that we went on the road and played hard and earned the points.
"I don’t want to take it away from the group of guys that came and did what they’re supposed to do and played hard. But we didn’t have everyone on the page, and when you’re playing tight games like this, playoff mentality, you’re not going to get the result."
Despite Carolina likely headed to a fifth straight season out of the playoffs, the Rangers aren’t taking their division rival lightly.
"The teams that are trying to play spoiler; they’re tough to play against," right wing Martin St. Louis said. "They don’t have that same mind set. You almost have to expect the unexpected. I don’t think they play as structured, as desperate.
"We have to make sure we’re aware of that, and make sure we’re ready to go at the drop of the puck."
St. Louis may be particularly concerned with his own performance as he continues to struggle since being acquired from Tampa Bay last month. He has four points in 17 games, while his only goal with New York is his lone point in the past nine contests.
St. Louis’ 38 goals and 88 points in 78 career meetings against Carolina are his highest totals against any opponent. However, he has only an assist in two matchups since joining the Rangers, and failed to get a point as their 10-game winning streak in the series ended with a 3-1 defeat March 11.
New York, though, has won five straight at MSG while limiting the Hurricanes to six goals.
Lundqvist, who will likely be in net, has won four of those contests, yielding one goal in each while compiling a .968 save percentage. He’ll have to contend with Jeff Skinner, who has five goals and three assists in eight games after finding the net against New Jersey.
The left wing has 12 points in 13 career meetings with the Rangers, but only one in four visits to the Garden.