NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers haven't worried about anyone else but themselves all season, focusing on their own play and not on that of the opposition.
That attitude moved them closer to clinching first place in the Eastern Conference on Friday night, as they rolled over the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 at Madison Square Garden to earn their 50th win of the season. It's the Rangers' first 50-win season since 1993-94, the last time they won the Stanley Cup.
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto scored twice and Brad Richards had a goal and two assists to help reduce the Rangers' magic number for wrapping up home-ice advantage through at least the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to three. By earning their 107th point, the Rangers also moved one point ahead of the St. Louis Blues in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
The Rangers maintained their five-point lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 on Friday night. Both teams have four games remaining, including a showdown in Pittsburgh next week, but what's happening in the Steel City is of little concern to the Rangers.
"It's not as much (about clinching the No. 1 seed) as it us trying to find our game and making sure we have a lot of confidence rolling into the postseason," captain Ryan Callahan said. "With us feeling that, I think it comes along, that first seed. That's not something that we're ultimately focusing on, it's more our game. The last couple games here, you could feel it starting to come again. We're starting to get that confidence back, which is really important as you head into the postseason."
The Rangers have won four straight and six of seven, a sign that their month-long doldrums between February and mid-March have been put in the rear-view mirror. Henrik Lundqvist made his season-high eighth-straight start and looked like he has found the form that eluded him for a short while, making 19 saves and coming within 2:29 of a shutout before Rene Bourque spoiled the bid.
Marian Gaborik's 39th goal of the season opened the scoring at 8:56 of the first period with a goal from the slot that initially looked like it would be a wasted scoring chance. Richards flipped a pass into the slot, but Gaborik fanned on the bouncing puck. However, he was able to control the puck with his skate and shoot it home on his second try to make it 1-0.
Richards made it 2-0 when he snapped home a power-play goal 30 seconds into the second period. He glided off the right-wing boards and beat goaltender Carey Price to the stick side.
It was the first of two power-play goals scored by the Rangers, who have four goals with the extra man in the past two games. Del Zotto said the reason for the sudden success is the quick decisions being made by everyone.
"The thing is, we're moving the puck quickly. We're not holding onto it too long," said Del Zotto, whose second goal of the game came on the power play. "When that happens, other teams are allowed to get in there flush and get into the setup they want. Right now, the puck's moving so quickly, and no genius has to tell you that the puck moves more quickly than a body, so when we're doing that with the skill we have, we're able to score goals."
For the Canadiens, it was their third straight loss and sixth in seven games. It was also their first game since general manager Pierre Gauthier was fired Thursday. Interim coach Randy Cunneyworth liked what he saw from his club, except for the lack of goal scoring.
"They worked hard in the game," Cunneyworth said. "It's an awfully good team that we're trying to outwork, and I thought we outworked them and had some zone time. The next dilemma is getting the puck to the net. The couple times that we did, we were effective, but their goaltender played well.
"We have got to get be as good, if not better, tomorrow night (at Washington)."
The Rangers have a day off before hosting the Boston Bruins. Should the Penguins lose Sunday afternoon in any fashion, the Rangers would wrap up the No. 1 seed in the East with a win that night.
Of course, they're not looking that far ahead. They just wanted to take care of business against a Habs team that beat them twice this season, and with a team effort, the Rangers were able to do just that.
"We'll reflect upon it probably when everything's done, but it's not the time to pat ourselves on the back," forward Brian Boyle said of the team's 50th win. "We've done it all year. We've been up top or near top all year, and it's contributions from everybody. It's different guys stepping up. Michael gets two tonight, the power play's been very good. Hank's been back there all year being Hanky. It's a lot of different guys. Everybody's bought in and it's been a lot of fun."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
1 - 0 NYR
Michael Del Zotto
2 - 0 NYR
Michael Del Zotto
3 - 0 NYR
Michael Del Zotto
4 - 0 NYR
4 - 1 NYR
Interference on goalkeeper
Too many men/ice - bench