NEW YORK -- Very little about the New York Rangers’ entrance into the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been graceful.
Instead of controlling their own chance to clinch this past weekend, the Blueshirts instead backed into the postseason by virtue of a New Jersey Devils loss on Monday. Thursday, they barely eked out a 2-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres, the league’s worst team, but they still ended their night with some good news as a Philadelphia Flyers’ regulation defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning ensured the Blueshirts home-ice advantage in the first round.
Nothing has come easy, but they’ll take it.
“Obviously, the focus doesn’t change in the playoffs, the road or at home, but the experience changes,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who finished the night with 23 saves. “To play at home is just a great feeling, and to feel the atmosphere and the support, you get goose bumps. Obviously, you want to play as many games as possible at home.”
Though the Rangers’ first-round foe is yet to be determined -- it will be either the Flyers or the Columbus Blue Jackets depending on how this weekend plays out -- the Rangers will start the series at Madison Square Garden.
If the Rangers are aiming at a deep playoff run, that start will have to be much better than the one they delivered against the lowly Sabres on Thursday night, in a feeble first period during which they were outshot 12-9.
“We didn’t have a very good start,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “I don’t think we had a shot for eight or ten minutes. I’m not exactly sure what it was.”
It was actually 7:32 into play, though that was no matter, as the Rangers didn’t actually get on the board until the final minute of the second period when Benoit Pouliot tallied his 15th goal of the season, tying the game at 1 while extending his point streak to seven games.
It was an ugly game for the Rangers -- one that had the same sort of poor start that set them back Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes as well. But whereas Tuesday the group recovered for a decisive 4-1 victory, the Rangers barely made it out of the building with the two points.
On the team’s third shot of the third period, Rick Nash snapped a scoreless tie with 1:42 in regulation. Later in the night, the Flyers fell to the lightning, locking the Rangers into the second spot within the Metropolitan Division.
Avoiding the top-seeded Boston Bruins, widely regarded as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, has to be a relief for the Blueshirts.
Now they travel to Montreal for the season finale, in what will be one last chance to fine-tune their game before the playoffs start. Despite closing out their regular-season slate at MSG with a pair of wins, they could use an extra boost heading into next week.
“I don’t know if satisfied is the right word, but I’m happy,” alternate captain Brad Richards said. “We are confident that we have played really big teams [and] we’ve handled every aspect of the game and we know we can play with them.”