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Rangers returning to the Cup playoffs

Blueshirts qualify after Carolina falters, will face Capitals in Round 1

Saturday, 04.09.2011 / 9:25 PM / News
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Rangers returning to the Cup playoffs
MSG VIDEO: Tortorella on Making Playoffs
Rangers Blow Away Devils at Home
Past Playoff Clinch Dates

By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com

After the Rangers defeated the Devils 5-2 in their regular season finale at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon, many of the players decided to get together and watch the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning decide their playoff fate later that evening.

And after a mild celebration in the afternoon, there must have been a much bigger one at night as the Rangers clinched a berth in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs when the Lightning routed the Hurricanes 6-2 down in Carolina.

The eighth-seeded Rangers will face the Eastern Conference’s top team, the Washington Capitals, in the opening round of the playoffs. The NHL will announce the dates and times for the series on Sunday night.

Rangers players celebrate rookie Ryan McDonagh's game-winner -- and eventual playoff-clinching goal -- sagainst the Devils Saturday afternoon at MSG.
“Everyone was pretty cautious even though early it was 3-0 then 4-0,” said team captain Chris Drury. “We just wanted to make sure it got to the end in our favor. Certainly we’re all pretty excited and thrilled for the opportunity to play the Caps.”

Saturday capped an emotional past seven days for the Blueshirts, who earned huge victories Sunday in Philadelphia over the Flyers and Monday at home against the Bruins before losing control of their playoff destiny with a 3-0 loss to Atlanta at The Garden on Thursday.

The Rangers entered Saturday needing a victory over the Devils to keep their playoff hopes alive, plus a Carolina loss to Tampa Bay to cement their fifth trip to the playoffs in the past six years. And they got exactly what they wanted, and needed.

“We’ve had some range of emotions the past two or three days,” said Drury, who returned to the lineup and scored a hugely important goal on Saturday. “We had kind of a downer against the Thrashers, then picked ourselves off of the mat Friday. And then we won a big game today, but had to sit around and watch the other game. We’re obviously happy with the way Saturday ended and we’ll enjoy it Sunday morning, but then we’ll start thinking about the Caps. Right now we’re just happy to be in the mix.”

The Rangers won three of their four meetings with the Caps this season, including victories of 7-0 and 6-0. Drury, however, cautioned late Saturday night that regular season results don’t automatically carry over into the post-season.

“It really is, in my opinion, a whole new season,” said Drury. “Certainly there are things we can learn from and take from our experiences playing against them during the year, but ultimately it’s a totally different season.”

And after a wild 11-4-1 finish to their 93-point regular season, the Rangers are thrilled to return to the playoffs after missing out by a single point a year ago.

Earlier in the day, Brandon Dubinsky summed things up this way, “If we get in the playoffs, the way our team is, we will be a tough team to play.”

Now we all will be able to find out just how tough an out the Rangers will be in the playoffs.

It wasn’t without a few skipped heartbeats along the way, but the Rangers are in the Stanley Cup playoffs.