The New York Rangers
enter Friday night facing the biggest must-win situation of the NHL season: They have to beat the Philadelphia Flyers
at Madison Square Garden or face the all-but-certain prospect of starting their summer vacation two days from now.
The Rangers and Flyers start the front end of a home-and-home series with the Rangers in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Flyers and three in back of Boston and Montreal. The Rangers helped themselves with a 5-1 home win over Toronto on Wednesday; the Flyers are coming off a 2-0 win over the Leafs at Toronto on Tuesday night and may get their leading goal-scorer, Jeff Carter
, back from a broken foot.
The Flyers can clinch a playoff berth for themselves, the Canadiens and the Bruins with a regulation victory; an OT win will lock up a berth for Philadelphia and Montreal. A regulation win for the Rangers makes Sunday's rematch at the Wachovia Center a true "win and you're in" game for both teams, who would both have 86 points. A regulation loss will end their playoff hopes; a single point will leave them with a faint possibility of catching Boston, which has two games remaining.
The Flyers-Rangers game, one of five on Friday's schedule, starts at 7 p.m. ET and will be shown on Versus in the United States and RDS in Canada.
None of the four other games will affect who makes the playoffs, but there are still things for the eight teams in action to play for.
Washington, which locked up the Presidents' Trophy by beating Pittsburgh 6-3 on Tuesday, would love to get Alex Ovechkin
a couple of goals when the Atlanta Thrashers
come to the Verizon Center for a 7 p.m. ET start. Ovechkin begins the night with 48 goals, one behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby
for the NHL lead.
Columbus becomes the first team to complete its season when the Blue Jackets host Detroit at 7 p.m. ET. The Jackets will want to put on a good show for the home folks in the back end of a home-and-home; the Wings won 4-3 at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday and are jockeying for playoff position in the West.
At 8 p.m. ET, Anaheim visits St. Louis after losing 3-2 in a shootout at Dallas on Thursday. The Blues are playing their final home game of the season.
An hour later, Chicago visits Colorado in what could be a first-round playoff preview -- the Hawks need a victory to regain first place in the West, while the Avs begin the night in eighth place after clinching the final playoff berth in the conference on Tuesday.