It took a lot longer than expected, but the New York Rangers are officially playoff bound. The Rangers had a strong outing this evening against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and earned a 4-2 victory. Throughout a majority of the game, the Rangers controlled the play and if not for Joonas Korpisalo, this game probably would have been out of hand.
Following two extremely slow starts against the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres, the Rangers made an effort to come out tonight with a much stronger start. The Rangers were able to generate a ton of pressure in the offensive zone in the early going, and as a result, they took a 1-0 lead at the 6:17 mark of the first period. Once again, it was Chris Kreider powering his way through the middle of the ice, and generating a high quality shot just inside the hash marks. Joonas Korpisalo was unable to hold onto the puck, and Kreider was able to pounce on the loose puck at the top of the crease.
That goal gave Kreider his 20th goal of the season, and he continues to find the back of the net on a nightly basis. After a rather inconsistent season, Kreider is starting to put it all together at the right time, especially with the playoffs right around the corner. Shortly after the Rangers opening goal, they were handed a power play after Jared Boll was sent of for roughing.
Tanner Glass was able to draw the penalty after absolutely crushing Gregory Campbell in the corner, which goaded Boll into taking an unnecessary minor. Despite not scoring with the man-advantage, the Rangers completely dominated during the two minute span and generated several threatening chances in close. The Rangers were able to close out the period just as strong as they started, and held a 13-7 shot advantage through 20 minutes of play.
Much like the first period, the Rangers were able to come out strong once again and put pressure on in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, they were doing so without their captain as Ryan McDonagh never returned as the teams came out for the second period. McDonagh blocked a shot by Brandon Dubinsky in the first period, and it wound up hitting him directly in the right hand.
After some early pressure, Dan Boyle was able to pinch in from the point, and tossed a quick shot towards Korpisalo. Boyle's shot was able to fool the goaltender and he slipped the puck through Korpisalo's legs to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. Nearing the end of the period, the Blue Jackets were finally able to break through after Nick Foligno was able to catch a deflection in front.
David Savard did an excellent job of placing a shot about waist height, and Foligno was able to get just enough of the puck to disrupt Henrik Lundqvist. With about two minutes remaining in the second period, the Rangers quickly responded with a goal of their own, and it came courtesy of Mats Zuccarello. The goal came off of a 2-on-1 rush back the other way, and Zuccarello was able to tap home the loose puck after a failed centering pass. Korpisalo was able to react in time with the puck quickly changing direction, and Zuccarello gave the Rangers a comfortable 3-1 lead.
With 20 minutes remaining, the Rangers look to close out the period with a strong effort, and grab two big points in the standings. As expected, the Blue Jackets weren't going down without a fight, and at the midway point of the third period, they pulled within a goal. Once again, it was Nick Foligno who made a nifty move around Kevin Klein and broke in on a partial breakaway.
Klein was able to deflect the puck as it came in on not, but unfortunately, he wound up deflecting it just over Lundqvist's left pad. Following the goal, the Blue Jackets continued to pressure the Rangers in the offensive zone, and with two minutes remaining, Zuccarello was sent off for high sticking. That gave the Jackets a power play for the remainder of the game, and it made for an interesting close to the game.
Thankfully, the Rangers were able to kill off the penalty rather effectively, and with a little over a minute remaining, Derek Stepan iced the game with an empty netter. Henrik Lundqvist was able to hold down the fort for the remaining minute and the Rangers officially locked up their playoff spot.
While the Rangers will likely celebrate this achievement, they will have to immediately turn the page as they return to action tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden. The Tampa Bay Lightning will be in town, and the Rangers next objective is catching the Pittsburgh Penguins and attempting to secure home ice for the first round of the playoffs.