NEW YORK, N.Y. – The New York Rangers came up short in their first shot at clinching a playoff berth. The Ottawa Senators bounced back from a humbling loss and gave their flickering post-season chances a slight spark.
When all was said and done Saturday night, the Senators skated off with a 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden that boosted their hopes and delayed any celebration for the host Rangers.
“We’re just trying to win games,” said Senators captain Jason Spezza, whose second-period goal was the winner. “We’re trying to build some momentum, win games and play right.
“If we’re winning games, it will be a more enjoyable end of the season.”
The Senators shook off a 7-4 loss to Montreal on Friday when a 3-0 lead was wiped out by seven straight goals against them. Ottawa is five points behind the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, but the Senators will have to jump over four teams with only four games left to get into the playoffs.
“We wanted to have a response just for the morale of the group,” Spezza said. “We know it’s been a disappointing year, we know that we haven’t reached expectations, but we still have these games left to play so we want to win them.”
Robin Lehner made 41 saves and held off a furious late push by the Rangers, who still need one point to secure a playoff spot. They could qualify before their next game if New Jersey loses to Calgary on Monday.
The Rangers will host Carolina on Tuesday.
“We are still in a good spot,” defenceman Dan Girardi said. “It’s in our hands to get that win in our next game, and hopefully secure home ice in the first round.”
New York, with three games remaining, would get that if it keeps its hold on second place in the Metropolitan Division over Philadelphia, which lost at Boston on Saturday. The Flyers trail by four points with five games left.
The Rangers, back home after a 2-1-1 Western road trip, started slowly and trailed 2-0 in the first period. Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad put Ottawa in front, and Spezza made it 3-1 in the second.
Mats Zuccarello deflected in two goals in the second to bring the Rangers within a goal each time. Henrik Lundqvist made 31 saves.
“I hope our mindset is not to clinch. It’s about getting the home advantage,” Lundqvist said. “I’d rather look ahead than behind me.”
Ottawa grabbed the lead with 7:15 left in the first off a rush. Clarke McArthur made a pass from the left circle to Stone, who gathered the puck on the inside edge of the right circle and snapped a shot past Lundqvist for his third goal of the season and second in seven games.
Less than a minute later, Carl Hagelin had two prime scoring chances near the left post, but was denied by Lehner and then again on the rebound.
Rick Nash, who recorded seven shots, then had a breakaway chance, but his in-close stuff attempt was stopped by Lehner with 2:48 left in the first.
“We won and I’m happy,” Lehner said. “(My teammates) were helping me with rebounds, and I saw most pucks. They had some good chances, but I think we played better.”
Ottawa turned the puck right around and made it 2-0 just 11 seconds later.
Zack Smith won a faceoff in the Rangers zone back to Zibanejad, who worked his way into the slot and ripped a shot by Lundqvist for his 16th of the season and second in two nights.
Martin St. Louis nearly got the Rangers on the board, but he was stopped on a partial breakaway by defenceman Erik Karlsson, less than a minute after Lundqvist sticked away Chris Neil’s hard drive.
Rangers defenceman John Moore, in his second game following a six-game absence caused by a concussion, fired a hard, rising shot from the left point that sailed into traffic, struck Zuccarello and nestled in the net to make it 2-1 at 5:25.
Ottawa restored its two-goal lead 3:02 later after the Rangers couldn’t gain control of the puck.
Karlsson ripped a drive from the centre of the blue line that disappeared in a huddle of bodies in the crease, but was then poked in by Spezza, who wasn’t overly impressed by his 20th goal.
“It’s nice to get but it’s pretty insignificant, especially in a year where you don’t make the playoffs,” he said.
New York cut its deficit back to a goal with 8:05 remaining in the second. Zuccarello swung the puck behind the net and around the boards to Marc Staal, who took a shot from above the left circle that Zuccarello deflected in for his 19th goal.
The Rangers hurt their comeback chances in the final moments when they retaliated for what appeared to be a late hit by Neil on Staal. New York was short-handed for 2 minutes of the final 2:47.
NOTES: Ottawa is 4-7-3 in the second of back-to-back games this season. … Spezza has eight 20-goal seasons in the NHL. … New York defenceman Ryan McDonagh (shoulder) missed his second straight game.