NEW YORK -- As much as the Ottawa Senators are aware of the big picture in their push to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, their mindset heading into Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; RDS2, TSN5, MSG) for the latest in a string of big games is squarely set on getting off to a strong start.
The Senators did not do that the last time they played the Rangers, on March 26 at Canadian Tire Centre. It hurt them. New York defeated Ottawa 5-1 after jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the first period.
"We know how good of a team they are and we know we can't get off to the start tonight that we did last game," Senators center Kyle Turris said. "We're confident."
As they should be. Ottawa has gone 21-4-4 in its past 29 games to pull into a points tie (95 points) with the Boston Bruins for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Senators were 14 points out of a playoff position on Feb. 10.
Ottawa will be in position to finish as the first wild card if they beat the Rangers and the Bruins lose in any fashion against the Florida Panthers. If that were to happen, the Senators would jump the Bruins and the idle Pittsburgh Penguins, who have 96 points and two games left.
Regardless of what Boston does, the Senators (41-26-13) would be guaranteed to be in playoff position if they beat the Rangers (52-21-7), who have already clinched the Presidents' Trophy and can set a franchise record for wins in a season with one win in their next two games.
"Coming in here against the best team in the League," Ottawa forward Clarke MacArthur said, "it'll be the biggest challenge of the year."
It's one the Senators feel they're ready for. Turris said they've had a never-quit attitude for the past two months. That was perhaps never more evident than it was on Tuesday, when the Senators rallied from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in overtime.
"To be on the run we're on and give up because we're down 3-0 after the first would be kind of letting it go," Turris said. "We've put in so much work and we've had so much success in the past two months and we're going to see it through, whether we're down a goal or we're down five goals. We're going to keep working."
The Rangers are at least doing their part to make it slightly easier on Ottawa. Forwards Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello and defenseman Marc Staal will not play. Defenseman Kevin Klein remains out with an arm injury.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault bristled at the notion he is resting Nash, Zuccarello and Staal because the team has already clinched the Presidents' Trophy.
"I'm not resting anybody," Vigneault said. "If the guys aren't playing tonight it's because they've got injuries."
Vigneault said the players are day-to-day. The Rangers recalled forward Ryan Bourque and defenseman Chris Summers from Hartford of the American Hockey League. Bourque is expected to make his NHL debut.
The Senators are trying not to fool themselves into thinking the game will be easier because Nash, Zuccarello and Staal won't be in the lineup. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist will start for the Rangers.
"You don't let that factor into your thinking," Turris said. "They are three very skilled players, but they're all playing the same system and it's the system that wins you games. They still have a lot of very talented players in the lineup. We have a lot of respect for them, but at the same time we don't want to show them too much."
The Senators might have been guilty of showing the Rangers too much respect on March 26. It was the Rangers speed that did the Senators in, coach Dave Cameron said.
"Yeah, we allowed them to open up the ice," Cameron said. "We weren't through pucks. A good team, they hold onto pucks, open it up and guys are in full gear, and it's a heck of a lot harder to slow them down. We've gotta get that bump off the line of scrimmage."
Here are the projected lineups:
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Mark Stone
Mike Hoffman - Mika Zibanejad - Bobby Ryan
Erik Condra - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Curtis Lazar
Zack Smith - David Legwand - Alex Chiasson
Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson
Patrick Wiercioch - Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki - Eric Gryba
Scratched: Colin Greening, Jared Cowen
Injured: Robin Lehner (concussion), Chris Phillips (back), Chris Neil (thumb), Milan Michalek (upper body), Matt Puempel (ankle)
Jesper Fast - Derick Brassard - Martin St. Louis
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - J.T. Miller
Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - Ryan Bourque
Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - James Sheppard
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Keith Yandle - Dan Boyle
Chris Summers - Matt Hunwick
Injured: Kevin Klein (arm), Mats Zuccarello (body soreness), Rick Nash (undisclosed), Marc Staal (undisclosed)
Status report: Vigneault said he expects Klein to be ready for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round next week. He ruled Klein out for the regular-season finale Saturday against the Washington Capitals. Klein, who is skating on his own, hasn't played since March 11. … Hoffman, who started the game against the Penguins on the fourth line, has been moved back up to the second line and reunited with Zibanejad, who finished the game against Pittsburgh playing with Condra and Lazar. … Karlsson did not participate in the morning skate but will play.
Who's hot: For Ottawa, Stone has scored five goals during a four-game goal streak and has 10 points during a seven-game point streak. He has 24 points in his past 21 games. Turris has seven goals and 16 points in the past 16 games. Karlsson has 16 points in the past 15 games. MacArthur has seven points in seven games since returning from an injury that kept him out of the lineup for 18 straight. … For New York, Yandle and Kreider each have 10 points in the past 10 games. McDonagh has seven points in the past six games. Hayes has four points in the past two games. Hayes has 11 goals and 28 points in his past 37 games after scoring five goals and 15 points in his first 40 games.