The New York Rangers have already clinched their eighth playoff berth in nine seasons, though they’re still trying to nail down home ice for the first round.
A visit from the lowly Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night should help bring them closer to accomplishing that goal.
New York (44-31-5) is two points ahead of Philadelphia as it tries to hold off the Flyers for second place in the Metropolitan Division, though Philadelphia has a game in hand.
The Rangers took a 4-1 home victory over Carolina on Tuesday with Brad Richards scoring two power-play goals on the team’s three chances. New York had totaled three goals on 38 chances with the man advantage over its previous 12 games.
Martin St. Louis assisted on both of those scores as well as Derek Stepan’s third-period goal. He had totaled just four points over his first 17 games with the Rangers since being acquired from Tampa Bay.
New York has won eight of its last 11 contests.
"We talked before the game that we have been playing good hockey for a long time, and we want to go into the playoffs feeling good about our game," coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Rangers have won three straight over Buffalo, including two matchups this season, and can sweep their first season series since 2007-08.
Henrik Lundqvist, who is 10-4-1 with a 1.86 goals-against average and two shutouts over his last 15 starts, is scheduled to get the start. He has stopped 56 of 57 shots in the two games versus Buffalo this season.
The Sabres (21-49-9) have already guaranteed themselves a last-place finish and have dropped four in a row, marking their eighth losing streak of at least that many games this season. Their 51 points match their total from 1971-72 for their fewest in a season with at least 78 games, while their .323 winning percentage is the worst in team history.
Zemgus Girgensons scored 1:31 into the second period Tuesday to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead over Detroit before the Sabres surrendered the next three. Girgensons scored again late in the third before Pavel Datsyuk’s empty-netter with five seconds left capped a 4-2 loss for the Sabres.
Cody Hodgson assisted on both goals and has three goals and four assists over his last six contests.
Buffalo is 2-13-0 away from home since Feb. 1 while being outscored 50-23.
Vigneault said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh is expected to miss his fourth straight contest due to a shoulder injury, though he might play in Saturday’s season finale at Montreal.
New York has limited opponents to just three power-play goals on 48 opportunities spanning its last 20 contests.
Rick Nash has five goals and two assists over his last five games versus Buffalo, while Richards has four goals in his last three meetings.