The New York Rangers are a playoff team.
Not the way many felt they’d be one at the start of the season – coming off a 109-point, regular-season conference championship campaign in 2011-12, the Rangers weren’t expected to be sitting on the postseason bubble with two games remaining.
But they’re a playoff team, thanks to some puck luck and a laser shot from their captain in overtime.
The Rangers defeated a pesky Carolina Hurricanes team with nothing to play for but pride, 4-3, in overtime. The victory gave New York the two points they needed to clinch a playoff spot for the third season in a row, ending the threat of the Winnipeg Jets in catching them.
Later, the Ottawa Senators defeated the Washington Capitals, 2-1, on a Sergei Gonchar power-play goal in overtime.
The Sens' victory officially ended the Jets’ playoff chances, eliminating Winnipeg from postseason contention as they played the Montreal Canadiens at MTS Centre.
It wasn’t easy for the Rangers. After building a 2-goal lead in the first period, the Rangers blew that advantage in the second period on Carolina goals by Jiri Tlusty and Tuomo Ruutu. Tlusty’s goal 49 seconds into the third gave Carolina a lead it would hold until the Rangers caught a major break at 17:03 of the final frame.
New York was given a power play on an iffy tripping call on Ruutu. Brad Richards shot the puck, it hit the end boards, and then eventually bounced off the pad of goalie Dan Ellis and into the net.
In overtime, the Rangers were outplayed by Carolina. Then captain Ryan Callahan beat Ellis to the high far corner as the Hurricanes goalie hugged the post.
New York players mobbed him. The Rangers were a playoff team.
Moments later, so were the Senators.
They peppered Michal Neuvirth with 41 shots on the game, but needed overtime and Gonchar’s unassisted slap shot 47 seconds in to clinch a playoff spot.
Capitals center Mike Ribeiro was in the box for a roughing call he took at 19:02 of the third period. That's right: a roughing call in the last minute of a tie game.
Erik Karlsson played an astounding 27:11 in his first game back from a torn Achilles.
The Senators have two games remaining: vs. the Flyers and at the Boston Bruins, a make-up game from their postponement last week. They have 54 points, the same number as the New York Islanders in the No. 6 seed. The Isles, losers to the Flyers on Thursday night, have one game left at Buffalo.
The Rangers also have 54 points and one game left vs. the Devils on Saturday.
The final three seeds in the conference are anything but settled.