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Capitals fall to Rangers, but clinch home ice

by Katie Brown / NHL.com

WASHINGTON -- In the final game of the regular season, the New York Rangers didn't have anything to play for, but certainly looked ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers, who will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the First Round, continued their dominance of the Metropolitan Division with a 4-2 win against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Saturday. The Rangers are 23-6-1 against division opponents this season and 3-1-0 against the Capitals in their four-game season series.

"Our guys wanted to play the right way," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We knew that Washington was still playing for home-ice advantage, so they were going to come out hard and playing well. It was a hard game, but we were able to get it done."

Washington will host the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round. After failing to clinch home-ice advantage and second place in the Metropolitan Division with a win, the Islanders lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets, to finish a point behind the Capitals.

"It was a goal at the beginning of the season, to get home-ice advantage," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said.

"The guys in here are excited for the playoffs to start, excited for the challenge," winger Troy Brouwer said. "We've got to bounce back. We can be a dangerous team when we bounce back."

The game provided a preview of a potential Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Capitals and Rangers. They've met in the playoffs in four of the past six years.

"I think we're a good match against them," Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. "They're a speedy team and we're a big team. I like the way our forwards can wear down their defensemen and when we execute our game plan, but they’re a good hockey team."

Forwards Kevin Hayes, Derick Brassard, Dominic Moore, and Jesper Fast scored for New York (53-22-7).

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 53rd goal of the season for Washington (45-26-11). Ovechkin finished with 81 points, tied with Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers for fourth in the League.

Forward Stanislav Galiev also scored his first career goal for Washington.

Henrik Lundqvist made 22 saves for New York in his 30th win of the season.

"Coming back after two months off, I set a personal goal to reach 30 wins," Lundqvist said. "I knew it was going to be a challenge, but the guys played really well and really helped me find my game. I feel well prepared and I’m excited to get going here in the playoffs."

Braden Holtby made his career-high 73rd appearance in goal for Washington, tying Olaf Kolzig's franchise record. Holtby made 30 saves.

"We came out a little bit flat in the first [period] and they capitalized," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "They didn't get a lot of chances, but they capitalized. We had some decent looks, and we didn't capitalize. At the end of the day we were chasing the game."

At 12:36 of the first period, Hayes deflected defenseman Ryan McDonagh's point shot and sent a backhander past Holtby to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. The goal was Hayes' 17th of the season.

Brassard's slap shot from the point gave New York a 2-0 lead at 15:50 of the first period. A failed clear by Washington led to the power play goal, Brassard's 19th of the season and the 100th NHL goal.

Ovechkin scored his 25th power play goal of the season to make it 3-1 at 6:31 of the second period, setting a Capitals franchise-record for the most power play goals scored in a single season. Ovechkin has eight points in his past seven games.

With Holtby pulled for an extra skater, Fast scored an empty-net goal at 18:06 of the third period, his sixth, to make it 4-1.

Galiev scored at 19:31 of the third period.

Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle played in his 84th game of the season. Yandle played 63 games for the Arizona Coyotes before being traded to the Rangers on March 1 and played in his 21st game for the Rangers on Saturday.

The Rangers played without forward Rick Nash and defenseman Marc Staal.

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