At a glance: The New York Rangers have already clinched a playoff spot -- well, technically, Karri Ramo and the Calgary Flames took care of that with their 1-0 blanking of the New Jersey Devils on Monday night -- but they don’t plan on letting up in the final three games of the regular season. Considering that home-ice advantage is still up for grabs in the Metropolitan Division, the Rangers aim to snatch another two points beginning Tuesday night, when they host the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden.
Last time around: In the two clubs’ last meeting, the Rangers had one of their most embarrassing performances of the season. Outworked from start to finish against the Hurricanes, the Rangers surrendered two points in a 3-1 loss without putting up much of a fight. The team expressed both disappointment and disgust with the lackluster effort. Though the Canes are out of the playoff hunt, the Rangers seemed to have learned a valuable lesson: not to overlook any team on any given night.
Back on track: Although the team has won seven of its last 10 games, the Rangers have dropped two straight -- not the type of hiccup they want as they gear up for the playoffs. Coming off losses to Colorado and Ottawa, the Rangers aim to reassert themselves as a team that can do damage in an Eastern Conference that, with the exception of the dominant Boston Bruins, seems to be wide open.
Hitting the mark: Even though he missed a significant chunk of time with a hand injury sustained during the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Mats Zuccarello is having a career year for the Rangers. The diminutive Norwegian winger, who tallied twice in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Senators, needs just one more goal to record the first 20-goal season of his NHL career. He has already eclipsed his previous career highs with 19 goals and 57 points.
Help on the horizon: In what may have been the most encouraging news of the day for the Rangers, top defenseman Ryan McDonagh participated in the team’s optional morning skate Tuesday -- a good sign for his potential availability in the playoffs. McDonagh, who is sidelined with a day-to-day injury to his left shoulder, may rejoin the Rangers for practice as soon as Wednesday. Though coach Alain Vigneault is undecided whether he will play McDonagh before the postseason, he sounded optimistic about the 24-year-old blueliner’s progress. Chris Kreider (hand) also skated Tuesday morning, but did not do any stickhandling with his injured left hand still in a cast. Kreider is out indefinitely.