Rangers Clinch Playoffs in Garden Finale
Needing only one point to clinch a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers had everything lined up for them in their final home game of the season. The evening began with the raucous Madison Square Garden crowd on their feet, as Police Officer Steven McDonald was on hand to present Jed Ortmeyer the annual 'Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award.' The disabled member of the NYPD said, "Twenty years ago when I was in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds, the Rangers visited me and gave me an ultimatum - live. Well, I'm giving the Rangers an ultimatum tonight - win."
The Blueshirts must have heeded McDonald's words. Just 2:53 into the game, Petr Prucha blasted a shot passed Montreal Canadien goaltender Jaroslav Halak from the right circle for his 21st goal of the season and the early 1-0 lead. This set the tone for a convincing 3-1 victory.
"Well, first of all, I don't know if any human being on this planet could have inspired us any more than Steven McDonald did to start this whole thing," Rangers Head Coach Tom Renney said. "We were staring courage right in the face (looking at him) while we are out there playing a sport. People are cheering for us and all that kind of stuff. And there is that gentleman sitting in a wheelchair and I don't think anyone could have said anything more powerful than what he did to help us start tonight."
Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist looked sharp right away and appeared to shake off the Islanders Ice Girl accusations. He made a few key saves and the score remained 1-0 at the end of the first period. The Rangers played a tight defense and out shot the Habs, 15-8.
The Rangers doubled their advantage at 8:42 of the second period when Jaromir Jagr one-timed a shot for his 30th goal of the season. The crowd exploded and seemed to be convinced that this would not in fact be the last time hockey was played on Broadway in 2007. For the Rangers' captain, he became only the second player in NHL history to score 30 plus goals in 15 consecutive seasons, joining Mike Gartner.
Following a penalty kill, the Rangers padded their lead when defenseman Marek Malik wound up from the blue line. A timely score for only his second tally on the year. As the buzzer sounded to end the second period, a scrum broke out on the near boards at center ice. Of course it involved Sean Avery, who always seems to be in the middle of everything since the Rangers acquired him. He has become a fan favorite and a big reason why the Rangers are in the position they currently are.
"The way I look at it, I would say (it was) the addition of Steve Avery," said Jagr in response to a question on what turned the Rangers' season around.
Montreal played a strong third period and pressured the Rangers throughout, out shooting them 11-8. Lundqvist held his ground and turned away nearly everything sent his way. The shutout was lost with 4:43 remaining in the contest when Sheldon Souray scored a power play goal. He set a new record for defenseman with his 19th power play goal on the season.
The Rangers must now wait until the completion of the regular season on Sunday to find out who will be their first round opponent. They will look to fair better than last season's first-round sweep at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. But they know what awaits them regardless of who they face.
"It is a different story when you go into the playoffs, "winning goalie Lundqvist said. "Last year we had a lot of injuries. We have a couple of guys coming back. When it starts next week, it takes everyone to be on the same page to get some results. I feel good. I feel confident with these guys.