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Loss in Washington Secures Meeting With Montreal

Blueshirts Will Face the Canadiens in First Round of Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Get your passports ready: the Rangers are heading to Montreal to face the Canadiens in the opening round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A depleted Rangers squad fell to the Washington Capitals, 2-0, Wednesday night at Verizon Center, and thus can no longer mathematically move up in the standings. The team earlier this week clinched no worse than the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Montreal on Monday clinched the Atlantic Division crown. The series will begin next week at Bell Centre.

New York was without forwards Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Jesper Fast, as well as defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei and Nick Holden, who were all kept out of the lineup with what coach Alain VIgneault called "bumps and bruises."

Despite the missing pieces, New York held its own against the Capitals, who with the victory clinched their second consecutive Presidents' Trophy as the top team in the regular season.

"It was definitely a different feel out there," said Derek Stepan. "I thought our first period was a real strong period. I thought we generated the looks where we wanted. As the game went on, we kind of got into penalty trouble that caused us to spend a little time in our own end."

After a scoreless first period, the Capitals broke through on the power play 14:49 into the second when Alex Ovechkin's wrist shot from the right circle deflected off Justin Williams and through Henrik Lundqvist for his 23rd goal of the year.

Washington added some insurance 5:42 into the third period when Evgeny Kuznetsov broke in and beat Lundqvist on a partial breakaway to put the Capitals ahead by two goals.

Lundqvist, who made 23 saves in the loss, said these last two games have been positives for not only him but the play in front of him as the team continues to prepare for the start of the postseason in one week's time.

"We played really well tonight," Lundqvist said. "A lot of structure in front of me and the last game two. We made some really good decisions with the puck. We don't give up the really big scoring chances right in front.

"You've got to make them earn it by working really hard and I feel like the last two games we've been smart and more consistent with our decisions," he added. "I think that's very important moving forward."

Vigneault too was pleased with Lundqvist's performance, especially with half of the team's starting six defenders out of the lineup.

"I thought our guys competed hard tonight," Vigneault said. "I liked our structure without the puck. I don't think we gave them a lot of chances, but when we did, the positive thing is that our goaltender has found his game and is looking real sharp."

The Rangers and Montreal meet in the postseason for the first time since the 2014 Eastern Conference Final, when New York edged the Habs in six games to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994.

Montreal has the fourth-most home wins in the Eastern Conference at 24, while the Rangers' 27 victories away from The Garden this year are the most road wins of any team in the NHL.

With two games remaining on the schedule, Vigneault was not willing to look too far ahead, though he admitted the impending matchup would not be far out of mind.

"I'm not focused on that yet," Vigneault said. "We've still got Ottawa Saturday afternoon and then we've got Pittsburgh Saturday. There's no doubt that in the back of our minds we are going to look ahead but we still can't look past Ottawa and then we've got to take care of Pittsburgh."

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