NEW YORK (AP) - What the Rangers wished for on opening night suddenly wasn't good enough when the regular season ended.
New York is going to the playoffs for the first time in nine years, but the Rangers dropped their fifth straight game Tuesday night - a 5-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators - and blew their last chance to secure their first division title since the Stanley Cup-winning season of 1993-94.
Picked to finish last by many, New York set its sights on just making the postseason. The Rangers wrapped that up with seven games left and were in great position to win the Atlantic Division, too. But their longest skid of the season, no points in five straight games, pushed them all the way down to the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
"It's hard," forward Michael Nylander said. "We had the division on the line for many games now and we didn't come through."
Instead of having home-ice advantage in the first round, the Rangers will instead play the New Jersey Devils, who rallied to capture the Atlantic by winning their final 11 games. That best-of-seven series will begin Saturday in New Jersey and continue Monday in the Meadowlands.
"It's always great to play your best hockey before the playoffs," Rangers forward Jaromir Jagr said. "They're hot, but it has to stop somewhere."
The Senators are limping into the playoffs, with their biggest injury being to goalie Dominik Hasek, who hasn't played since going down during the Olympics. Ottawa came into its season finale on a 1-4-2 skid, but still managed to secure the top seed in the East.
Dany Heatley scored his 50th goal in the third period, the Senators' third tally of the period.
Heatley, in his first season with the Senators, reached the 50-goal mark for the first time and extended his Ottawa single-season record. Andrej Meszaros and Mike Fisher also scored third-period goals to break open a tight game.
"We all knew coming into this building it would be a hard-fought game," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "It was a big boost for us going into the playoffs to win a big game like that."
Ottawa leapfrogged Carolina, which lost 4-0 at home to Buffalo, to grab first place. The Senators will play defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay in the opening round.
"This conference playoffs is going to be very tough," Alfredsson said.
The Rangers, who led the Atlantic for most of this season, were passed by Philadelphia and New Jersey on the final day. The Flyers beat the New York Islanders 4-1 and New Jersey won 4-3 at Montreal to take the division title.
Ottawa got goals from Patrick Eaves and Alfredsson in the second period to take a 2-1 lead. Meszaros netted his 10th goal just 1:12 into the third with the teams skating 4-on-4. Fisher gave the Senators a three-goal advantage with a short-handed goal scored on the Rangers' first power play.
Heatley finished it off with a power-play goal with 6:12 remaining.
Henrik Lundqvist, playing for the first time in eight games because of a hip injury, kept the Rangers in it until the third period. His best stop came in the second period when he was knocked over by his Swedish countryman Alfredsson on a breakaway, but kept the puck out of the net.
"I felt good for two periods and then I got tired in the third," Lundqvist said.
But his 27 saves weren't nearly enough to outduel fellow rookie Ray Emery, who was stellar in stopping 27 shots and winning his 23rd game while filling in for Hasek.
Martin Straka scored New York's only goal, cutting the Rangers' deficit to 2-1 just 16 seconds after Alfredsson scored.
The Rangers were sloppy in the second period and it cost them. After getting away with a number of giveaways, Fedor Tyutin's defensive zone turnover led to Ottawa's first goal.
New York won a faceoff near its net, and Tyutin was blocked at the right point as he tried to clear. He lost the puck to Eaves, who passed to Alfredsson in the slot. Just as quickly, the puck was returned to Eaves for his 20th goal of the season.
Another Rangers turnover forced Blair Betts to take a tripping penalty. Lundqvist made a fine pad stop on Wade Redden's drive from the left point, but he couldn't keep the rebound away from Alfredsson, who scored his 43rd goal.
"We gave the other team a lot of odd-man rushes," Jagr said. "Maybe we are tired and we're making mistakes, but this is not the way you want to go into the playoffs."
He seemed eager to carry the Rangers, as he'd done all season. He made passes, charged the net from the front and the back, and tried on several occasions to jam the puck past Emery. But he finished with just one assist, leaving him second in the NHL's points and goals race.
After leading both categories for much of the campaign, Jagr - who had club records of 55 goals and 123 points - lost to San Jose's pair of Jonathan Cheechoo (56 goals) and Joe Thornton (125 points).
Notes: Ottawa scored first for the 46th time in 82 games and went 40-3-3 in those contests. The Senators were 12-18-6 in games they trailed 1-0. ... New York defenseman Darius Kasparaitis played after missing 12 of the previous 13 with a groin injury.
|Patrick Eaves (20) Wrist shot - ASST: Daniel Alfredsson (59), Bryan Smolinski (31)|
1 - 0 OTT
|PPG - Daniel Alfredsson (43) Wrist shot - ASST: Wade Redden (40), Marty Havlat (6)|
2 - 0 OTT
|Martin Straka (22) Snap shot - ASST: Jaromir Jagr (69), Michal Rozsival (25)|
2 - 1 OTT
|Andrej Meszaros (10) Slapshot - ASST: Dany Heatley (53), Jason Spezza (71)|
3 - 1 OTT
|SHG - Mike Fisher (22) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE|
4 - 1 OTT
|PPG - Dany Heatley (50) Slapshot - ASST: Daniel Alfredsson (60), Marty Havlat (7)|
5 - 1 OTT
|Jaromir Jagr Broken stick|
|Zdeno Chara Hi-sticking against Jaromir Jagr|
|Michal Rozsival Hooking against Wade Redden|
|Blair Betts Tripping against Wade Redden|
|Michal Rozsival Cross checking|
|Patrick Eaves Tripping against Marek Malik|
|Patrick Eaves Roughing against Tom Poti|
|Tom Poti Roughing against Patrick Eaves|
|Andrej Meszaros Slashing against Michael Nylander|
|Ryan Hollweg Roughing against Jason Spezza|
|Jason Spezza Roughing against Ryan Hollweg|
|Michael Nylander Hooking against Dany Heatley|
|Jaromir Jagr Hi-sticking against Chris Neil|
|Jaromir Jagr Roughing|