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Rangers Top Penguins in Regular Season Finale

Hellberg Records First NHL Win in First NHL Start

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

Let the games begin.

The Rangers edged the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, in the regular season finale, and can now officially shift focus to the start of the postseason and a first-round date with the Montreal Canadiens.

Video: PIT@NYR: Vesey lifts backhand for go-ahead goal

Jimmy Vesey's goal 7:23 into the third period snapped a 2-2 tie, and Magnus Hellberg made 22 saves for his first NHL win in his first NHL start. 

Mika Zibanejad won an offensive zone faceoff clean and scooped the puck up off the boards. He sent a pass to the front of the net that Vesey received in the slot and went backhand to beat goaltender Tristan Jaffy for his 16th of the season. 

Hellberg was recalled Sunday on an emergency basis and got the start in place of the injured Antti Raanta, who was hurt Friday in practice but is expected to be available for the start of the playoffs later this week.

The victory was a longtime coming for the 26-year-old Swede.

"Of course I'm very happy," an emotional Hellberg said after the game. "This is something I've been fighting for for five years. To be able to get this opportunity in the last game of the season is very big for me. The guys played great in front of me." 

Video: PIT@NYR: Hellburg denies Kessel's break with pad save

Hellberg was strong in a first period in which he said Pittsburgh was the better team. His biggest stop came on a breakaway for Phil Kessel, one of the NHL's preeminent goal scorers.

"It happened so fast," Hellberg recalled. "I know he's one of the best players in the League and he has a really good shot. I just tried to come out and try to take away as much ice as I could. He tried to go five-hole and I managed to keep my knees together."

Video: PIT@NYR: McDonagh dances through the defense, scores

Nick Bonino opened the scoring 9:16 into the game, but New York answered on goals from the returning Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan, whose power play goal with 1:29 left in the first period put the Blueshirts ahead for the first time.

McDonagh had missed the last four games with an undisclosed injury and one was of a handful of players who did not play every game during the season's final week after New York clinched its playoff berth back on March 28. 

Coach Alain Vigneault is optimistic that lighter workload will benefit his workhorses in the postseason.

"He was one of the few guys who hadn't played in a while," Vigneault said of McDonagh. "I think in these last few games, we've accomplished what we wanted to do. Some guys had some bumps and bruises, so we did what I think was a smart thing to do and allow those guys - except [Jesper Fast] - the chance to play in one game. We're going into the playoffs as healthy as a team can be at this time of the year and we're looking forward to the opportunity that's in front of us." 

With 82 games in the books and 102 points in their pocket, everything now rolls back to zero. The goals in November and the saves in March get tossed out the window. Regular season head-to-head records are meaningless.

"Come tomorrow morning, what's happened so far for each and every player, the page is turned and everybody's got a clean slate," said Vigneault, who has led New York to the postseason in each of his four seasons behind the bench. "It's a great opportunity in front of them to make an impact and a difference in the playoffs. This is what we worked the whole season. This is what every player and coaches work for is to get an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup. 

"We're one of the 16 teams that has that opportunity," he added. "For every player right now it's a clean slate. Let's go out there and have some fun."

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