NEW YORK – On Feb. 10, the Ottawa Senators were 14 points from a playoff spot. On April 9, they finally moved into one, and control their own destiny.
The Senators defeated the New York Rangers, 3-0, at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, moving one point ahead of the Boston Bruins, who lost to the Florida Panthers, and the idle Pittsburgh Penguins into a wild card slot. Andrew Hammond had the 26-save shutout, his third during this remarkable run.
“It’s special to get the shutout but the most important part is how well we played overall. We came in businesslike, and overall we played a smart game," said Hammond.
The Senators have 97 points and close out their season at the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. Since the Bruins lost to Florida, 4-2, all the Senators need is a point gained, or lost by the Bruins, on the last day of the season to clinch a berth.
They could also earn a berth if Pittsburgh stumbles. The Penguins have 96 points, but have a game in-hand – they host the New York Islanders on Friday and visit the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
It was, for the most part, a tedious affair between the Sens and the Rangers, who are entrenched in first place. They were presented with the Presidents’ Trophy before the game and rested key players Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Marc Staal.
Perhaps Ottawa was emotionally spent from that amazing comeback win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday. But the Senators got all the offense they need in the second period, in a 1:04 stretch.
The Senators took a 1-0 lead at 17:31 of the second period after killing off a Rangers’ power play for too many men on the ice. Mark Stone won a puck battle behind the net and found Clarke MacArthur for a one-timer that beat Henrik Lundqvist. Kyle Turris had the secondary assist, and would factor in big for the Senators’ second goal.
Kyle Turris won the puck back to Eric Gryba. He fired it from the right point, it deflected off the stick of Turris and it handcuffed Lundqvist to make it 2-0 at 18:35.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau clinched it with an empty netter with 1:29 remaining.
The Senators thought they hit the board first in the opening period, but it was wiped away.
With 6:16 left in the first, a shot from the point found it’s way past Lundqvist, but it was immediately waved off on a goalie interference call on Mika Zibanejad. The Senators forward was tangled with defenseman Chris Summer, but clipped the pads of Lundqvist while the Rangers goalie was squarely in his crease.
"I can feel he was right there and when the shot came I tried to move. He just landed right on top of me," said Lundqvist, who flexed his leg after the collision.
The Rangers controlled play early, outshooting the Senators 7-1, but were unable to get a quality chance against Andrew Hammond.
Their best chance was on that late second-period power play after Ottawa had six skaters in the defensive zone. Kevin Hayes had a one-timer he couldn’t get a handle on, that Andrew Hammond saved while sprawling with his pads.
"Hayes gets a great look. Their goaltender makes a Grade-A save," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.
They also had some quality chances on a late third period power play, including a Derek Stepan shot from the slot that Hammond snagged.
Hammond faced 26 shots, turned them all aside, and moved to 18-1-2 as a starter. The legend of the Hamburglar grows.
As does the legend of the 2014-15 Senators; a team that fired its coach in early December, was over a dozen points out of a playoff spot in early February and now has a chance to battle for a wild card berth on the last day of the season, the product of a 22-4-4 run that’s stunned the hockey world.