Rolling Rangers host lowly Habs

With three straight wins and a five-point lead in the Eastern Conference standings, the Rangers host the last-place Montreal Canadiens, who dismissed general manager Pierre Gauthier Thursday with a little over a week left in a disastrous season.

The Rangers, meanwhile, return to Madison Square Garden after a three-game trip in which they knocked off Toronto, Minnesota and Winnipeg while blazing toward a first-place finish. The 49-21-7 Blueshirts need only five points to clinch an Eastern Conference title and have five games left to do so.

For the second time this week, the Rangers received help from an unlikely foe when the New York Islanders swept a home-and-home set against the Penguins with a 4-3 win Thursday.

The Penguins will have a tough time catching the Rangers now with only a handful of games left, but they host New York in the second-to-last game of the regular season next Thursday in Pittsburgh.