Just like last year, the New York Rangers enter their regular-season finale hoping to avoid being kept out of the playoffs by one of their biggest rivals.
This time, even a win might not be good enough to make it.
While a regulation loss eliminates the Rangers, earning one or two points against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday would keep their playoff hopes alive but needing help later in the day to qualify.
New York is tied with Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 91 points, and each team has one game remaining. However, the Hurricanes have the edge in tiebreakers, with one more non-shootout victory than the Rangers and having earned more points in the season series.
So if New York gets at least one point Saturday to avoid elimination, the team surely will be glued to the television that night to learn its fate as Carolina hosts Tampa Bay.
“We felt this coming for the past three weeks,” coach John Tortorella said. ” … It doesn’t surprise me it’s going to take us 82. We’ll be ready to play Game 82.”
For Game 82 last season, the Rangers visited Philadelphia in a matchup where the winner would go to the playoffs and the loser would be out. New York suffered a 2-1 shootout loss, sparking the Flyers’ run to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Rangers are coming off another crushing defeat Thursday, falling 3-0 at home to an Atlanta team out of playoff contention. The loss prevented New York from controlling its playoff destiny and Carolina routed the Thrashers 6-1 on Friday.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Rangers forward Brian Boyle(notes) said. “It’s unfortunate, it’s devastating, but we have another chance, which is good. We’re confident we can do well on Saturday and hope for the best.
Tortorella said his team was “flat” Thursday, possibly in part because it lost some positive vibes with the absence of Ryan Callahan(notes). It was the first game New York played after losing its second-leading scorer and overall leader to a broken leg.
New York had beaten two of the East’s top teams - Philadelphia and Boston - in its previous two games. Saturday’s matchup is with one of the worst, as the Devils are among six teams in the league yet to reach 80 points, but New Jersey’s 27-10-3 record since Jan. 8 is the best in the East.
The Devils have won both meetings with New York during that turnaround after losing the first three, and they would surely like to forge a season split and knock their Atlantic Division rival out of the playoff hunt.
“It’s hard to get up for games, so definitely it would be nice to have something to play for,” goalie Martin Brodeur(notes) said. “For our fans, I think they are the ones praying for that matchup on Saturday. It would be nice to play for something.”
Since being pulled eight minutes into a loss at Carolina on New Year’s Day, Brodeur has a 1.75 goals-against average in 28 games and hasn’t given up more than three goals in any of them. He’s been particularly good in his last 10 road starts, posting a 1.47 GAA, and that run started with a 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 3.
Lundqvist hasn’t been particularly sharp lately, with an .893 save percentage in his past four games.
Neither has Marian Gaborik(notes), who has gone eight straight games without a goal and didn’t play for most of the third period Thursday after being beaten up ice on a goal by the Thrashers. Gaborik has played in 15 fewer games than last season, his first with New York, but has 20 fewer goals (22) and 39 fewer points (47).
“It’s nice but we didn’t accomplish the goal put in front of us before the season,” Kovalchuk said. “I don’t think any player on this team can be satisfied with his season.”
The Devils close their season Sunday against Boston.