The Tampa Bay Lightning struck early and often in a 6-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, giving the Rangers possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers' season will continue, though there may be a brief pause to scribble some thank you notes to the boys with the lightning bolts on their jerseys.
The Rangers will match-up against the Washington Capitals in the first round, with the first two games to be played in D.C. That's just fine by the Rangers though, as they've handled the Caps pretty well this season. In their last three meetings, the Rangers have outscored the Caps 14-1 en route to three victories.
Look for a larger breakdown on the series to come, but one thing to sweeten the dreams of Rangers fans tonight: The Blueshirts are now playing with house money. Nothing more is expected of them. Meanwhile, the Caps will be playing with the weight of the world (and an impatient owner who has put his team on the clock to win a Cup) as they look to avoid another early-round upset. That's an awfully nice combination if you're an underdog like the Rangers.
As the Philadelphia Flyers proved last season, just getting into the playoffs is a big hurdle. Once you're in, anything can happen. Now the fun starts.