The Rangers celebrate Dominic Moore’s second-period tally vs. the Capitals on Saturday.
WASHINGTON – The Rangers on Saturday concluded the best regular season in franchise history.
At least by the measures of wins and total points, Alain Vigneault’s Rangers set team records for victories (53) and points (113) with Saturday afternoon’s 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals on the final day of the NHL regular season.
They eclipsed the records previously held by the 1994 Rangers that went on to, well, you know.
The Blueshirts (53-22-7, 113 points) had to wait until the conclusion of Saturday night’s game to find out whether they would be facing the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings in the first round. The Ottawa Senators were no longer a potential opponent after their afternoon win in Philadelphia.
The Rangers did help the Islanders’ case to try and gain home-ice advantage in their own first-round series against Washington (45-26-11, 101 points). The Isles stood at 100 points going into their finale at the Coliseum against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Martin St. Louis and the Blueshirts are streaking into the playoffs after record regular season.
The winner of that Isles-Caps series would face the Rangers, if they advanced, in the second round.
Saturday afternoon, Rick Nash, Marc Staal and Kevin Klein (broken left arm) didn’t play. Vigneault gave Nash and Staal the second straight game off to nurse nagging ailments from the simple wear and tear of the season. Mats Zuccarello returned after sitting out two games himself.
The Caps were the team with something to play for – its seeding against the Isles – but the Rangers roared out to a 3-0 lead by 2:30 of the second period, and Henrik Lundqvist (22 saves) stood tall when he had to in goal. Braden Holtby made 30 stops for Washington.
Kevin Hayes bounced back from a lackluster individual effort in Thursday’s home loss to Ottawa to swat the 17th goal of the rookie center’s season out of mid-air, opening scoring at 12:36. Captain Ryan McDonagh got the first assist for his point shot that deflected off a Capital’s stick, giving him eight points in the final eight games of the season after having just eight in his previous 26 matches.
Just as encouragingly, that entire play was set up by veteran right wing Martin St. Louis (two assists) on the initial entry and shot on goal. Elite play from someone like St. Louis is going to be the difference in this postseason between just another playoff run, and a potential Stanley Cup.
Derick Brassard helps get the Rangers off to a fast start Saturday with a first-period goal.
He also forced the turnover that led to a 3-0 Rangers lead at 2:30 of the second period on Dominic Moore’s fourth goal in six games and 10th of the entire season.
Center Derick Brassard had built a 2-0 lead at 15:50 of the first period on a wicked, top-corner power play slapper from the point off assists from Hayes and Dan Boyle. It was Brassard’s 100th goal of his NHL career and his career-high 19th of the season.
Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 53rd goal of the season on the power play in the second period to make it 3-1. The Rangers’ Jesper Fast added a third-period empty-netter at 18:06 for a 4-1 lead before Caps rookie Stanislav Valiev scored his first NHL goal with 28.7 seconds to play.
Lundqvist shook out his left leg – which he nearly injured Thursday night – following a long stretch toward the puck early in the first period, but he showed no signs of the knee bothering him after. Also in the first period, Fast looked to have re-injured the right knee that caused him to miss most of February due to a sprain, but he remained in the game.
The season concluded with three players appearing in all 82 Rangers games this season: defenseman Dan Girardi and forwards Dominic Moore and Carl Hagelin. Girardi did so for the fifth time in his seven full 82-game NHL seasons, and has appeared in an astounding of 651 of a possible 656 regular season games in his career.
Trade deadline acquisition Keith Yandle, who was excellent the final two weeks after a slow start, didn’t just play in all 82 games; he appeared in 84, overlapping due to his deadline trade from the Arizona Coyotes to New York. Yandle has built an impressive consecutive games streak of 469 straight appearances, a streak that began March 26, 2009, in just his second full NHL season.
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