The New York Rangers certainly closed out the regular season on a high note, and set multiple franchise records with a 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals this afternoon. This Rangers team was the most successful team in franchise history by setting records for most wins during a regular season at 53, and most wins on the road at 28. Henrik Lundqvist also reached another personal milestone by notching his 30th win of the season, while only starting in 46 games due to his injury.
What was really surprising today was the fact that the Capitals still had plenty to play for this afternoon, and the Rangers carried a majority of the play. They also did that minus Rick Nash, and Marc Staal, who are major components for the Rangers heading into the playoffs. It was also fitting for the Rangers to close out the regular season with yet another road win, which is something that have been dominating all season long.
The Rangers were able to get off to a lighting quick start in this game, and capitalized twice during the second half of the first period. The first goal came courtesy of Kevin Hayes, who scored a ridiculous goal off to the side of the net, and batted the loose puck out of the air on his backhand. Hayes got the entire play started himself by fighting off Matt Niskanen, and kicking the puck out to Martin St. Louis at the point.
The puck eventually worked its way over to Ryan McDonagh, who ripped a shot on net, and Hayes cleaned up the rebound with a highlight-reel goal. About a minute and a half after Hayes gave the Rangers the 1-0 lead, Mike Green was sent off for holding Ryan McDonagh while driving to the net. That sent the Rangers to their first power play of the afternoon, and they took full advantage of it.
Just as the power play was set to expire, Derick Brassard unloaded a wicked slap shot from the blue line, and slipped the puck by Braden Holtby on the blocker side. Kevin Hayes did an excellent drop in front to provide the screen, and Holtby never even caught a glimpse of the puck as it came on net. With the Rangers closing out the period holding on to a 2-0 lead, they carried that momentum over into the second period.
Dominic Moore would eventually widen the Rangers lead to 3-0 just 2:30 into the second period, as he ripped a ridiculous backhand past Holtby on the short side. St. Louis got things started with his excellent forecheck to knock the puck loose from Troy Brouwer, and sent the puck back into the zone. Moore was able to chase down the loose puck, and ripped the backhand past Holtby before he even knew what happened.
Shortly after that, James Sheppard was sent off for tripping, and gave the Capitals their first power play opportunity to get back into the game. Sure enough, about a minute into the man-advantage, Alex Ovechkin wired a one-timer past Henrik Lundqvist to make it a 3-1 game. Ovechkin has been automatic on the power play this season, and you could almost sense that it was coming sooner or later.
That would close out the goal scoring in the second period, which set things up for an entertaining third period to close out the regular season. The Capitals came out the intermission flying, and started taking unnecessary runs at the Rangers throughout the final 20 minutes. That led to a ridiculous cheap shot by Joel Ward, as he caught James Sheppard in the chin with an elbow, which basically started everything off.
Then it was Tim Gleason, who was running all period long, and was finally put in his place after Tanner Glass dropped the gloves with him late in the game. With all of the unnecessary stuff out of the way, Jesper Fast iced the game with about two minutes remaining, and slipped the puck into the empty net. While the game was certainly out of reach at that point, the Capitals weren't going down without a fight.
At the 19:31 mark, Stanislav Galiev notched his first career goal, and pulled the Capitals within two with 30 seconds remaining. Unfortunately, time ran short of the Capitals, and the Rangers pulled out a big 4-2 to close out their regular season. As it stands right now, the Rangers still don't have a set first round opponent yet, with the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, and Pittsburgh Penguins all playing later tonight.
The Ottawa Senators already punched their ticket to the playoffs with a win over the Philadelphia Flyers today, which avoids the Rangers as a first round matchup. Depending on how everything plays out tonight, the Rangers could face one of the three teams mentioned above, and it will certainly be an exciting finish. The Rangers, like the rest of the playoff teams, will have a few days to rest and recover before the journey begins later this week.
Playoff hockey is almost here, and it's about damn time!