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Rangers clinch Metropolitan with win against Wild

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has talked in the past about checking boxes during the course of the season.

The Rangers checked another one Thursday, clinching the Metropolitan Division with a 3-2 win against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

New York (49-21-7) has the most points in the Eastern Conference with 105, two more than the Montreal Canadiens; the Rangers have a game in hand.

"That's part of our different goals that we set at the start of the season," Vigneault said. "Now, we've solidified home ice, we've won our division, and we'll see if we can't get it done in our conference."

Rangers forward J.T. Miller scored the game-winner 6:48 into the third period, deflecting a shot from the point by defenseman Ryan McDonagh past Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk less than a minute after Thomas Vanek tied the score 2-2.

The win established a Rangers record for road victories in a season (26).

Minnesota had a five-game winning streak end. The Wild are five points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets and Los Angeles Kings for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference; the Kings hold the second wild card because they have more regulation and overtime wins than the Jets (36-32).

The Rangers took advantage of the Wild, who hadn't played since Saturday, by scoring 2:09 into the game and twice in the first period.

"I thought our two biggest challenges were, one, the layoff, and two, the cushion we've built and all the questions we've had to answer about the playoffs," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "With all the urgency we've had, the amount of games we've had ... I don't want to say it's been easy to prepare, but you don't have to look too far back to see the things that are making you successful."

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 10 of his 26 saves in the third period for his 27th victory, the second in three starts since returning from a vascular injury Saturday.

"I feel better and better," Lundqvist (27-12-3) said. "Making better reads, feeling more comfortable. It's just fun to be back out there playing. It's a lot more fun when you win and you're helping your team get points."

Miller, who took a cross-check from Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien on Tuesday, was high-sticked by Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter in this game. Suter was assessed a double minor after opening a cut on Miller's nose.

"[The game-winner] felt good. I've been taking a little bit of a beating here," Miller said. "I'm going to try to go through a game without getting hit in the head."

The Rangers took advantage of a Wild turnover for a 1-0 lead. A pass by Vanek was intercepted by Carl Hagelin at the blue line. He took a quick shot toward the net that was deflected by Dominic Moore past Dubnyk.

"Our last three, four games we haven't had good starts and that was a main focus, and sure enough we had a good one tonight," McDonagh said. "We found ourselves in a battle in the third period, but found a way to get one through them there at the end and we really defended well.

"They've got a lot of skill and size and speed up front and I thought we did a good job of keeping them to the outside and not giving them too many quality looks."

New York scored on its first power play for a 2-0 lead. Rick Nash's shot from a bad angle deflected in off Dubnyk's blocker at 14:37. Nash's 41st goal tied his NHL high, established in 2003-04, his second season with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Minnesota (44-26-7) made it 2-1 at 5:24 of the second period when a backhand flip by defenseman Matt Dumba deflected past Lundqvist off Jason Pominville's skate. The goal ended a nine-game drought for Pominville, whose 17th goal gave him 50 points for the eighth time in his NHL career.

"We want to keep the pedal down," Pominville said. "You don't want to get in [a position] where you're depending on teams to lose. You want to get in [the playoffs] the right way, and that's what we're focused on, trying to build our game and get in on us winning games."

Vanek tied the game after Dumba's shot wide of the net caromed to him in front at 5:53. Vanek has eight goals and 12 points in his past 12 games.

"Down by a goal, they were going to have a push," Vigneault said. "But I thought for the most part, I thought we handled it pretty well, and I liked our push after they scored. Then we were able to weather the storm with a couple of minutes left."

Dubnyk finished with 23 saves; he is 26-7-1 since being acquired from the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 14. Each of Minnesota's nine losses over that span has been by one goal.

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