NEW YORK – Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers wrapped up their fourth straight playoff spot with a game to spare.
Lundqvist made 37 saves, and Ryan Callahan had a goal and an assist in New York’s 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night.
“I am excited, but I’m also proud of what we accomplished here,” Lundqvist said. “It’s a been a roller coaster, but it’s always like that. It’s a long season. We’ve been through a lot. It’s a new experience to go through a coaching change.”
The Rangers, set to close the regular season Sunday in Philadelphia, are fighting Montreal for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens, tied with the Rangers with 93 points, will finish Saturday night against Pittsburgh.
The seventh seed will open the playoff against Washington, and the eighth seed will face Boston.
“The first thing is to get in the playoffs,” said coach John Tortorella, who replaced the fired Tom Renney on Feb. 23. “Congratulations to the players. They’ve fought through it the last couple of months, the ups and downs with a lot of things going on around the team.”
The Rangers’ win over the Flyers also helped New Jersey, giving the Devils the Atlantic Division title.
Markus Naslund also scored for the Rangers, 8-1 in their last nine games at Madison Square Garden. Daniel Briere scored for the Flyers, and Martin Biron made 29 saves.
Callahan had a hand in both goals as the Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the first period.
“It’s more excitement than relief,” Callahan said. “We’ve been working hard and it’s exciting to get that final push and finally get a spot.”
New York scored 52 seconds in as the Rangers stormed the crease, chasing a loose puck. Naslund, who was credited with the goal, and Callahan took multiple swipes before the puck – and Biron – both slid into the net.
Referee Don VanMassenhoven pointed to the goal, signalling a score – a decision that was confirmed by a video review.
“I thought I had it covered up,” Biron said. “I was above the goal line and all of a sudden I was struggling to keep my hands above the goal line. The referee seemed to have a clear view of it.
“It certainly made a big difference in the game.”
Callahan scored at 12:06, deflecting Derek Morris’ blast from the right point.
Briere scored the only goal of the second period at 9:14. With Philadelphia on the power play, Briere flipped a shot over Lundqvist on what had effectively become a 5-on-3 advantage.
Rangers defenceman Paul Mara was severely hobbled after blocking a slap shot from Kimmo Timonen. Mara limped off the ice after the goal was scored but returned later in the period.
Early in the third, Lundqvist preserved the Rangers’ one-goal lead with a spectacular diving glove stop on Daniel Carcillo.
“We pretty much controlled that game,” Carcillo said. “We were unlucky on the first goal, but we kept going after them. It’s a tough loss.”
The Flyers got a power play when Naslund was whistled for interference on Biron at 10:05. Philadelphia failed to capitalize but the Flyers did have a golden opportunity to even the score when Briere hit the crossbar with 4 minutes remaining.
Notes: The win was Lundqvist’s 37th, tying his career high set in 2006-07 and 2007-08. … Sean Avery and Nik Antropov were in the lineup for the Rangers even though they did not practice Wednesday. Antropov is still feeling the affects of a knee-to-knee collision suffered Saturday in the Rangers’ 1-0 loss in Boston. … The Rangers scratched LW Aaron Voros. The Flyers scratches were LW Riley Cote (finger injury) and D Ryan Parent.