An 11-game surge by the New York Rangers has made the chase for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division far more interesting than expected.
The Rangers will look to continue gaining ground while making a long-time rival sweat its postseason positioning on Tuesday night when they visit the New York Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y.
Both teams were off Monday after earning key wins Sunday, when the Rangers squandered a three-goal lead before scoring twice in the final three minutes to beat the New Jersey Devils 5-3. Nick Leddy was credited with the game-winning goal 2:23 into overtime to lift the visiting Islanders to a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
The win by the Rangers completed a four-game series sweep of the Devils, though it was achieved in an unexpectedly nail-biting fashion. The Rangers, who outscored New Jersey 13-3 in the first three games, opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period before giving up three goals in a span of less than seven minutes bridging the second and third.
The Rangers, who took the ice knowing they needed a win to stay four points behind the fourth-place Boston Bruins in the East, went ahead when Mika Zibanejad celebrated his 28th birthday by scoring on the power play with three minutes left. Ryan Strome added an empty-netter in the final 30 seconds.
“It doesn’t matter if (the Bruins) win or lose if we don’t win, so we tried to just settle down when they scored the tying goal,” Zibanejad said. “We converted and got away with two points and that’s all we care about: Taking care of business and making sure we win hockey games.”
With the win, the Rangers improved to 8-1-2 in the last 11 games and kept themselves in the playoff mix. Seven of the Rangers’ final 11 games are against the first-place Washington Capitals, second-place Islanders and the Bruins, who have two games in hand.
“I don’t care how many leads you blow — it doesn’t matter if you find ways to win and that’s what we did,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “That being said, we certainly understand that if we’re going to have success, we’ve got to play better.”
A bit of good fortune for the Islanders allowed them to snap a two-game losing streak and create some breathing room during a tightrope-walking stretch of the schedule. Leddy’s backhand glanced off the stick of the Flyers’ Travis Sanheim and into the net.
“I think it was more of a fortuitous bounce than anything,” Leddy said.
The Islanders are 6-3-0 since April 1, but each of their last five wins have been by one goal, including four in overtime or the shootout.
On Sunday the Islanders were outshot 23-13 in the first two periods before generating 15 shots in the third period and OT to earn the win and move within two points of the Capitals and remain four points ahead of the Bruins.
“We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “But at the end of the day, a huge two points. Huge.”
–Field Level Media