The New York Rangers have a playoff berth at their fingertips, but with a substantial cushion and four games remaining, they’re likely more concerned with holding off Philadelphia for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
An opportunity to clinch a postseason spot while furthering their cause for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs comes Saturday night at home as they go for a regular-season sweep of the Ottawa Senators.
The Rangers (43-30-5) are four points ahead of the Flyers, who have two games in hand. They could have given themselves more breathing room Thursday, but squandered a late lead in a 3-2 shootout loss at Colorado.
The Avalanche tied it in the final minute of regulation, and the Rangers failed to score in the shootout as they wrapped up a 2-1-1 road trip.
"I definitely would have preferred two (points)," coach Alain Vigneault told the team’s official website. "We were in a position to win this game, had a faceoff in our own end, win the draw, had two opportunities to get it out, and didn’t get it out. They tie it up and then win in a shootout. We come out of this with five points on a pretty tough trip, so we take the five points and go home."
Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves to improve to 6-1-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average in his last eight starts.
The Rangers now open a three-game homestand against Ottawa, Carolina and Buffalo – three of the bottom five teams in the Eastern Conference – before playing their final regular-season game at Montreal.
New York, which has lost six straight (0-4-2) regular-season games at home to the Senators, began its current 7-1-1 stretch with an 8-4 victory March 18 in Ottawa.
Derick Brassard had two goals and an assist while Rick Nash scored twice to give him six goals in his last six games against the Senators. Derek Stepan also scored and has four points in two games against the Senators this season.
Ottawa (32-31-14) saw its slim playoff chances take another hit Friday with a 7-4 home loss to Montreal. With five games to play, the Senators are seven points out with five teams to pass.
The loss was especially difficult to stomach because they led 3-0 less than six minutes into the game.
"I’m numb," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "We came out and played and got the lead 3-0 and then we stopped playing. We stopped doing the things that made us successful."
Center Zack Smith scored two of those early goals while center Mika Zibanejad’s goal and assist gave him four points in four games.
Goalie Craig Anderson allowed seven goals on 23 shots, which could mean Robin Lehner will start the second of the back-to-back games. He’s 2-0-1 with a .933 save percentage in his last three starts, but he allowed five goals on 28 shots in a relief role in taking the loss last month to the Rangers.
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, the team’s leader in ice time, missed the Colorado game but expects to be back from a shoulder injury before the start of the playoffs. He was injured Tuesday and initially thought it could be something more serious.
"I was pretty concerned, I had never felt that kind of pain in the shoulder before," McDonagh said. "I was relieved that it was nothing structural. Now it’s just a matter of getting that range of motion back."
Rangers points leader Mats Zuccarello has five points in three games.