BOSTON — At 3:15 p.m. Saturday, there was reason to believe the New York Rangers could end the day with sole possession of the Metro Division’s No. 1 spot. Chief among them was the Carolina Hurricanes, who trailed the New Jersey Devils by two goals with less than five minutes left.
But at the start of the hour, the Canes rallied to force extra time. And at 3:16, when the puck was dropped between the Blueshirts and the Bruins, Carolina had completed its victory to secure two points in the standings. (For the Twitter crowd, I promise not to share any more out-of-town scores until they’re final.)
That meant the Rangers needed to beat Boston to keep pace with the race, but instead a 3-1 loss at TD Garden dropped them to second place with three games remaining in the regular season.
“We watched it because you always watch a game,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said when asked about the Hurricanes result. “It was 2-0, then all of a sudden it was 3-2. … We want to finish first. We want to win every game we play. But at the end of the day, when the season is over, if us “I’m first or second, we always have home ice. It’s like that, but we want to try to win as many games as possible.”
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A win would have increased the likelihood of a Rangers-Bruins first-round series, with the B’s currently positioned to open against the Metro Division champion. The second will face the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals, with the Pens edging out the Caps with their 7-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
Do you have all that? Good.
To continue with the hypotheticals, the Rangers (51-22-6) still have a chance to clinch first place. They host the Hurricanes in their next game on Tuesday in what could be a four-point swing. Carolina will enter with a lead of at least two points, but could extend it to four with a win over the Islanders on Sunday.
Shorthanded Rangers face reinforced Bruins
The shorthanded Rangers held their ground.
Playing without injured forwards Filip Chytil, Andrew Copp and Kaapo Kakko – all of whom should be ready for the start of the playoffs on May 2 or 3 – the Blueshirts generated plenty of time in the offensive zone and a total of 31 shots on goal. .
Julien Gauthier and Greg McKegg replaced Chytil and Copp, both injured in Thursday’s 6-3 win over the Isles. They have combined to play just five games since the March 21 trade deadline.
“It’s tough for these guys coming in,” Gallant said. “They haven’t played in – I don’t know how long – and they tried their best. They worked hard and that’s part of the game. They have to stay ready, and they know that. That’s which it is, but the playoffs are coming up and we have 27, 28 guys that are going to be hanging around. They have to make sure they’re ready when they come in, and I think they’ve been playing well.
On the other side, Boston picked up three key players from injury on Saturday — forward David Pastrnak, defenseman Hampus Lindholm and goaltender Linus Ullmark — to bring their team back together.
“I think we played well most of the time,” Gallant said. “We played a good team today. Boston was back to full roster, they were excited and they played well.”
How did that happen
The Bruins’ three comebacks played a role in the victory.
It all started with Pastrnak, who scored his 39th goal of the season late in the first period. He capitalized on a Rangers disappointment that led to a pointing opportunity, finishing a one-timer on a Charlie McAvoy wire to make it 1-0 with 35 seconds left until intermission.
The momentum carried in the second. With just 1:07 left in the period, a turnover from Adam Fox led to a breakaway goal from Taylor Hall and made it 2-0.
Rangers kept pushing, but Ullmark made some key saves on Mika Zibanejad and Frank Vatrano late in the second.
“I thought we looked good,” Zibanejad said. “We kept telling each other to keep going. Their goalkeeper played very well. He made some very good saves. They’re a good team, but I think we still managed to create chances.
They finally broke through in the third, when a power play goal on a Zibanejad one-timer cut the deficit to 2-1. But Trent Frederic added a crucial insurance goal for the Bruins with 10:23 to go to secure the victory.
Igor Shesterkin finished with 32 saves, the Blueshirts allowing their highest shot total (35) in 16 games since March 20.
“The game went both ways,” Barclay Goodrow said. “At times they had us in our zone. But for a lot of it we controlled it in their zone. … Overall it was a pretty close game. Let’s move on.”
The Rangers finished the regular season 2-1 against Boston and will have to wait and see if their paths cross again.
They had won seven of their previous eight games overall, but only one came against an opponent heading to the playoffs. That’s no reason to jump to blanket conclusions, with Rangers 19-15-2 this season against teams that are currently in playoff position. They’ve proven they can beat any Eastern Conference team on any night, but nothing’s for sure. (Pittsburgh still feels like the more favorable opponent given the Rangers’ three straight head-to-head wins.)
If they did end up facing the Bruins – what Gallant described as playing “a real good defensive structured game and they don’t give you much” – in a seven-game series, it would look like a toss-up, with cases to be made for each side.
“As far as intensity, I thought we had it,” Goodrow said. “Obviously they’re preparing for the playoffs just like us. It was good to play one of those teams.”
Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Learn more about his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.