The New York Rangers got perhaps the spark they needed to break free from their recent struggles. Their next opponent is still looking for one.
The Rangers will try to build on a contentious victory Wednesday night when they face the injury-plagued Detroit Red Wings, who are slumping but will look to continue their domination in the series.
New York (45-20-7) had dropped five of seven before Monday's game against New Jersey, but three simultaneous fights in the opening seconds seemed to set the tone for New York. The Rangers went on to a 4-2 victory and clinched a playoff berth, while earning much-needed points as they worked to hold off surging Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.
"I just want us to continue to play and continue to try to improve, and try to be playing our best hockey when we go into that last week," coach John Tortorella said. "These last couple of weeks are very important."
Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan each had a goal and an assist for New York, while Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan had two assists apiece.
The Rangers, 3-2 on their seven-game homestand, will try to build on the spirited victory as they take on the Red Wings (44-25-4). Detroit has dropped five in a row - one defeat shy of tying their longest skid of the season set Oct. 22-Nov. 3 - but history seems to suggest it will have a very good chance to avoid that.
Detroit has won five in a row and 12 of the last 13 meetings with the Rangers. All but one of the five consecutive victories was decided by one goal.
The Wings, though, will be trying to avoid losing six straight road games for the first time in one season since Dec. 7-27, 1987.
Detroit fell 5-3 to Washington on Monday after returning from a four-game trip. The Wings trailed 3-0 after the first 15 minutes but rallied to within a goal with 7:08 remaining before falling short.
"We can't sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. We're not going anywhere that way," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "We have to find a way to come together as a group and move forward, still try to think positive, see things positive."
Before the loss, Detroit learned that center Darren Helm is expected to be out four to six weeks because of a sprained knee ligament. Nicklas Lidstrom has missed a career-high 10 consecutive games due to a bone bruise in his right ankle, though he's returned to practice.
Johan Franzen has been out the past two games with back spasms and the team is also missing Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl and backup goaltender Joey MacDonald.
Detroit may also be without its starter Wednesday. A groin injury that's bothered Jimmy Howard recently is again acting up, and after missing practice Tuesday he's unlikely to face the Rangers.
That leaves Ty Conklin - who cleared waivers before being recalled from the AHL - as the likely starter. He's expected to be backed up by Jordan Pearce, who has never appeared in an NHL game.
Along with the goaltending woes - and in some ways because of them - the Red Wings' special teams are suffering. Detroit has gone 1 for 32 with the man advantage in nine games this month while allowing seven goals - three against the Capitals - in its last 19 short-handed situations.
"With the lineup we have, I don't think we can race anybody to four or five (goals). We've got to win 3-2 or 2-1. You've got to give up as little as you possibly can and be sound defensively," coach Mike Babcock said. "We're not going to outscore teams with the group we have. It's just not possible. So we have to find different ways to win."
The Red Wings defeated the visiting Rangers 3-2 in the most recent matchup Feb. 7, 2011, as Howard stopped 45 shots.
Detroit, making its first visit to Madison Square Garden since Dec. 6, 2009, has gone 7-1-0 in its last eight in the building.