NEW YORK, N.Y. – If Rangers coach John Tortorella was miffed in any way after New York’s season-ending home loss to the Washington Capitals, he didn’t show it.
Washington scored three first-period goals and third-string goaltender Braden Holtby made 35 saves Saturday night to help the Capitals beat the Rangers 4-1, spoiling New York’s chance to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy.
The hard-driving Tortorella chose instead to focus on myriad positives for the Rangers (51-24-7), who reached 109 points for the third time in franchise history but finished two behind Vancouver for the league’s top spot. The Canucks beat Edmonton 3-0 later Saturday night.
“I’m glad the 82 games are done because now is when the real stuff starts,” said Tortorella, who coached Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup in 2004 but has yet to guide the Rangers past the first round of the playoffs. “I am really excited and I know our guys are too. Our team will be ready to play.”
New York will host the Ottawa Senators in the opening round of the playoffs, the first time since 1996 New York will have home ice in a post-season series. The Rangers have never met the current Senators—an expansion franchise in 1992-93—in the post-season.
The Capitals quieted the Madison Square Garden crowd quickly as Alex Ovechkin and Mathieu Perreault scored on Washington’s first two shots against Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Washington (42-32-8) finished with 92 points and will be the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals will face the defending champion Boston Bruins in the opening round.
The Florida Panthers beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 to win the Southeast Division and will host New Jersey in the opening round. The Capitals, who would have won the division if the Panthers had lost, clinched a playoff spot for the fifth straight year with their 4-2 win over Florida on Tuesday.
Ovechkin got his 38th goal of the season just 32 seconds into the game after Brooks Laich won a faceoff and backhanded the puck back to Ovechkin, who fired a wrist shot past Lundqvist.
“We didn’t want to finish in eighth place so we wanted to play a strong game, and we did,” Ovechkin said.
Perreault made it 2-0 at 2:18 of the first, tipping a Roman Hamrlik slapshot past Lundqvist. Defenceman John Carlson extended the lead to 3-0 with 1:47 to go in the period before Nicklas Backstrom scored his 14th at 5:58 of the second to complete Washington’s scoring.
The goal was Backstrom’s first since Dec. 30. The centre had missed 40 games with concussion symptoms, returning to the Capitals’ lineup March 31.
“It feels great to contribute tonight and we’re eager for the playoffs to start,” Backstrom said. “Our goaltender played a great game for us and we’re feeling good about ourselves.”
The Capitals are 11-5-2 in their last 18 regular-season games against the Rangers and 5-2-1 in their last six at MSG. The teams met in the first round of the playoffs last year and in 2009 with the Capitals winning both series.
Brian Boyle scored for New York with 7:16 left in the second on a wraparound past Holtby. It was Boyle’s 11th of the season.
The 22-year-old Holtby, who has played most of the season for Hershey of the AHL, started because of injuries to Michal Neuvirth (lower-body) and Tomas Vokoun (groin).
Holtby, who improved to 4-2-1, was a fourth-round choice by the Capitals in the 2008 draft. He made acrobatic breakaway saves on Carl Hagelin and Brandon Prust midway through the third period.
“It was a challenge to play here but I felt confident all game,” said Holtby. “It’s exciting to be thinking about the playoffs now. This is what you dream about as a kid.”
New York is trying to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time since 1993-94, when the Rangers recorded a franchise-best 112 points and won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 54 years.
Lundqvist, who had a career-high 39 wins this season, also chose to look toward the post-season and a chance to advance past the first round for the first time in four years.
“It’s been a fun year, but I hope, and everyone else hopes, the best is yet to come,” said the 30-year-old goaltender, whose only two post-season series wins came in 2007 and 2008. “It will be exciting.”
The Presidents’ Trophy was first awarded in 1985-86 to the NHL’s top regular season team. The Rangers also captured it in 1991-92, when they were 50-25-5 and went on to lose in the second round of the playoffs to Pittsburgh.
New York also finished with 109 points in 1970-71 and 1971-72.
NOTES: Ovechkin has the most points in the NHL (678) since 2005-06. … Washington was 26-11-4 at home this season but 16-21-4 on the road. … Since the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, only four Presidents’ Trophy winners went on to win the Stanley Cup: Dallas in 1999, Colorado in 2001 and Detroit in 2002 and 2008. The two other dual winners since 1986 are Edmonton (1987) and Calgary (1989). … Dany Sabourin, who last played in the NHL in 2008-09 for Pittsburgh, was recalled from AHL Hershey to back up Holtby.