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Rangers crush Devils to hold serve

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

An overjoyed Ryan McDonagh reacts to his first NHL goal at 11:59 of the second period on Saturday. The rookie defenseman McDonagh's goal put the Rangers ahead 3-2 and stood up as a game-winner.

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By Jim Cerny,

With their playoff lives hanging in the balance, the Rangers rose up and erased a pair of one-goal deficits en-route to a convincing 5-2 victory over the Devils in the regular-season finale on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers finished the 2010-11 season with 44 victories and 93 points -- six wins and six points better than a year ago. Yet despite all of their success this season, they had to wait a few more hours to learn their postseason fate.

Should the Carolina Hurricanes lose their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight -- either in regulation or in overtime -- this evening, then the Rangers would advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.

A Carolina victory  would tie the Rangers with 93 points, yet the Hurricanes would be awarded the tiebreaker because they have more non-shootout victories than the Blueshirts, even though the Rangers would have three more overall victories (44-41) than the ‘Canes.

“It was do or die today, and we did what we had to do,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 24 saves while making his 26th consecutive start on Saturday. “We played a great game and we got the points. It is a weird feeling right now, because I don’t know if it’s going to be enough.”

Rangers head coach John Tortorella expressed pride in his club following the game, while also admitting he’ll be a bit anxious tonight, although he will choose not to watch the Hurricanes play his former team, the Lightning.

“We are doing things the right way the way we are building this team,” said Tortorella. “I think it is very important for this team to get in (to the playoffs) because that is part of growing as a team, getting that experience in the playoffs. I hope we get that opportunity, but we will see what happens.”

Dan Girardi, Artem Anisimov and Vinny Prospal celebrate Prospal's goal at 10:49 of the third period on Saturday. Prospal's goal was the game's final tally in a 5-2 Rangers romp over the Devils at MSG.
Rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh snapped a 2-2 tie by scoring his first NHL goal 11:59 into the second period for what turned out to be the game-winning score. McDonagh whizzed a shot from the right circle past the gloved hand of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur after some excellent work beneath the goal line by Rangers’ forwards Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik.

McDonagh’s goal handed the Blueshirts their first lead of the game and set off a joyous celebration on the ice, highlighted by the rookie’s impromptu jig after scoring.

“It made it sweeter that we got the win, for sure,” McDonagh said of his first goal. “It was a good feeling. I have been thinking about it for a long time, when it was going to come. It turned out to be a game-winner and helped the guys out today.”

It is fitting that the Rangers’ final regular-season victory saw the 19th different player score the game-winning goal. The Rangers have received contributions from the entire lineup all year long, and that statistic is just one more example of that.

“That’s the way we are and that’s the way we’ve won all year,” said Tortorella. “I think that’s helped our room because I don’t think there’s been any real game-breaker for us. It’s been about the group. And I think that helps build a team.”

The Devils scored just 2:03 into the game -- and again with 41.8 seconds remaining in the first period --  but the Rangers received a clutch goal from team captain Chris Drury in between and thus the Blueshirts trailed by one entering the second period.

Playing for the first time since Feb. 3 following knee surgery, Drury drove to the net to convert a rebound of Erik Christensen’s shot at 3:14 of the opening period. The goal, Drury’s first of an injury-plagued season, came on his first shift of the game and first in more than two months.

“That’s good stuff,” said a smiling Tortorella after the game. “I couldn’t be happier and more proud of him because of the way he has handled himself.”

Drury received 7:48 worth of ice time and played with tremendous energy while firing three shots on goal and winning four of six faceoffs.

Rangers captain Chris Drury is congratulated at the Blueshirts bench after scoring his first goal of the season in his first shift after missing 27 games with a knee injury. The goal at 3:14 of the first period, pulled the Blueshirts into a 1-1 tie with New Jersey.
“Everyone that dresses and puts the gear on wants to contribute,” said Drury. “Obviously I hadn’t had (a goal) and I am just glad that it came at a good time. I would certainly hope that me being in here and being around, not just today but the last week (at practice), would help the guys, at least in a small part.”

The Rangers exploded for three goals during the second period to put a stranglehold on the game. Wojtek Wolski scored the important tying goal just 1:52 into the middle stanza to settle the nervous building down. Wolski broke in on left wing on a 2-on-1 rush with Derek Stepan and had his shot deflect off Henrik Tallinder’s stick and past Brodeur for his 12th goal of the season.

Then after McDonagh had given the Blueshirts the lead later in the period, Brandon Prust jumped off the bench and charged to the net to chip in a rebound of Brandon Dubinsky’s left-wing shot at 16:06 to provide some breathing room for the desperate Rangers.

“We did what we wanted to do,” said Dubinsky, who finished the game with an assist, his team-leading 54th point of the season. “We played the game we’ve been playing all year and that we have been successful with. We did what we had to do, but unfortunately now we have to sit and watch and hope for the best.”

Prospal closed out the scoring with his ninth goal -- off a pretty feed from Artem Anisimov on a 2-on-1 -- with 9:11 remaining to play in the third period. From that point on The Garden Faithful alternated between chants of “Let’s Go Rangers”, “Hen-rik, Hen-rik”, and even “Let’s Go Lightning” before the final buzzer sounded bringing an end to the regular-season.

“This year, it feels like we have been consistent the whole year,” said Lundqvist, who finished the season with 36 victories, the fourth-highest total of his career. “We had a couple of bumps here and there, but it is hard to be satisfied or disappointed right now. If we are in (the playoffs), I think it is a great year. We will see.”
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