We're in! The New York Rangers officially clinched a playoff spot tonight with a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, thanks to Ryan Callahan's overtime snipe. The Rangers are currently sitting in 7th place at the end of tonight, and are in a three way tie for 6th place with the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators. The Rangers also hold the tie breaker over both the Islanders and Senators, so in order for either to pass the Rangers, they need to top them in points.
Derek Stepan got things started early tonight, as the Rangers got off to a lightning fast start and took an early 1-0 lead. Ryan Callahan starts this rush with a great little chip pass to Carl Hagelin at the blue line, and Hagelin later finds Derek Stepan streaking down the middle uncontested. Hagelin puts it right on the tape of Stepan, and he fires it just under the blocker of Dan Ellis for the 1-0 lead.
After some back and forth action for both teams, Mats Zuccarello was able to get under the skin of not only Jeff Skinner, but the other four guys in red as well. After going at it with Skinner, Zuccarello planted himself right in front of the net on the ensuing rush, and drew the attention of Marc-Andre Bergeron. With Bergeron tying up Zuccarello in front, a shot from Carl Hagelin popped out on the other side of the net, with no one covering the post. Derick Brassard swooped in from behind the net, and buried it into the empty for the 2-0 lead.
The Rangers came out guns blazing in the first period, and that was exactly the type of start the needed in a pretty big game like this one. The second period though? Not so much. Within the first ten minutes of the second, the Hurricanes were able to put up two consecutive goals off of terrible defensive mistakes to tie up the game at 2-2. Jiri Tlusty was the recipient of the first Canes goal off of an amazing passing between himself and Jeff Skinner. Tlusty dropped the puck off to Skinner in the corner, and Skinner hit Tlusty right back in front of the net for the tap in. There's not really much Henrik Lundqvist could do on the play other than throwing his body out and hoping for a deflection of some sort.
Just over three minutes later, Tuomo Ruutu tied things up for the Hurricanes after Anton Stralman got caught up ice which led to an odd-man rush. What's baffling about this play is the fact that the Rangers had four guys on Kevin Westgarth who possessed the puck along the boards. By some sort of miracle, Westgarth chipped the puck up to Ruutu, who broke in on a 2-on-1. Ruutu looked off the pass, and fired a ridiculous wrist shot over Lundqvist's shoulder. Just like that, the Rangers quick start was all but forgotten, and they were sitting back on their heels once again.
To make matters worse? Just 49 seconds into the third period, Tlusty came away with his second goal off the game on yet another odd-man back the other way. Michael Del Zotto initially made a great play at the blue line to keep the puck alive, but after a questionable shot/pass through traffic, Eric Staal possessed the puck coming back the other way with Jiri Tlusty. Staal dished the puck over to Tlusty who fired another laser passed Henrik Lundqvist, and suddenly after leading this game 2-0 early on, the Rangers were trailing with their playoff hopes on the line.
Luckily for the Rangers, after several missed calls on the Hurricanes, including a blatant tripping penalty on a drive to the net from Rick Nash, received the necessary make up call late in the game. With the Rangers starting to get some puck luck back over the last stretch of games, they got the bounce of the season on a shot from Brad Richards. After setting it up to Brad Richards on the point, Richards fired a desperation shot on net that wound up catching the back boards. On the bounce back, the puck trickled right behind Dan Ellis, as he kicked the puck into his own to tie the game with just over two minutes to play.
If you want to remember one goal from this season that helped the Rangers, it's that one. It was a huge goal, and wound up sending this game to overtime. With the Rangers still needing just a single point to clinch, Ryan Callahan took it upon himself to make that happen. The Rangers spent a majority of the overtime period in their own end, until Michael Del Zotto was able to spring Callahan up the ice. With two defenders coming back, Callahan drove in, and snapped a quick wrist shot on net. Dan Ellis wound up playing his angle completely wrong, and Callahan picked the top corner of the net to give the Rangers the win, and their ticket to the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It was a huge sigh of relief for both the Rangers, and their fans, especially after blowing the 2-0 lead earlier in the game. The Rangers still have a shot at moving up the standings as high as 6th, as they currently sit in a three way tie. The last game of the regular season with be at home as they take on the New Jersey Devils. Fortunately, there will be no chance of an elimination game, only a chance to move up in the standings.