The Rangers will try to move up to sixth place in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference standings on Sunday night when they host a Maple Leafs club simply trying to keep its playoff hopes alive.
With 89 points, New York (40-29-9) is in seventh place in the East, one point behind Tampa Bay but one in front of Montreal.
“We had to win this game to stay in the hunt for the playoffs,” said Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr after a 6-4 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday in which he had two goals and an assist. “We play probably the most important game of the season (Sunday against Toronto).”
Toronto (38-29-11), meanwhile, is in ninth place in the East, and just one point behind the Canadiens for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“This is it, four left,” said Toronto goaltender Andrew Raycroft, who’s allowed one goal in each his last two starts at Madison Square Garden. “It’s going to come down to the last one probably, we’ve got to hang in it.”
New York closed out March by sweeping the Flyers on the road in one season for the first time in franchise history. Michael Nylander added three assists and Henrik Lundqvist made 33 saves as the Rangers improved to 11-2-3 since the Feb. 27 trading deadline.
Coach Tom Renney, though, wasn’t thoroughly pleased with the Rangers’ effort against the league’s worst team.
“At this time of the year, it’s not so much what you take, it’s what you leave,” he said. “Had we not had six (goals), obviously this could have been a different outcome. … They certainly made a game of it and we have to be better than that (Sunday).”
Jagr has scored goals in each of his last two home games, and has eight points in a five-game streak at Madison Square Garden. After allowing four goals in each of his last two road games, however, Lundqvist may be happiest to be back on home ice.
Since Feb. 9, Lundqvist is 8-2-2 with a 1.39 goals-against average and four shutouts at home. In his last three starts there, he’s blanked Boston and Philadelphia and allowed one goal to playoff-bound Pittsburgh.
Lundqvist lost his only start at home to Toronto this season, though, allowing Mats Sundin’s go-ahead goal early in the third period of a 2-1 loss on Jan. 31.
Toronto squandered a two-goal third-period lead Saturday, but Tomas Kaberle scored his second goal 3:55 into overtime to beat the Penguins 5-4. The win was the Maple Leafs’ seventh in a row at home, and came after Raycroft gave up the tying goal to Ryan Whitney with 4 seconds to play in regulation.
“There’s been times this season when we’ve bent a little bit, but we’ve put ourselves into position to still make the playoffs,” Maple Leafs forward Darcy Tucker said.
Sundin has only one goal in his last 16 games, and still needs one tally to tie Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler for most in franchise history with 389. In his last five visits to Madison Square Garden, Sundin has three goals.