NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers started the day eighth in the Eastern Conference. They finished it two spots higher and locked into a first-round playoff matchup with the Washington Capitals.
In their final regular-season game, the Rangers beat the New Jersey Devils 4-0 on Saturday and jumped over the Ottawa Senators and the New York Islanders into sixth place.
When Ottawa was beaten by Philadelphia on Saturday night, the Rangers knew they were there to stay.
The Rangers' win assured that New York wouldn't finish eighth and be forced to face the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins. Now they can look even higher.
"If you start out in sixth, you could get home ice depending on what else happens. You never know," said forward Brad Richards, who had two assists in his 900th NHL game.
Last year, the Rangers finished with the best record in the East and knocked off Washington in a seven-game, second-round series before falling to New Jersey in the conference finals.
Their next task is another meeting with Alex Ovechkin and the Southeast Division champion Capitals. Washington and the Rangers will be meeting in the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
"It's going to be a tough opponent," Capitals forward Eric Fehr said of the Rangers after he scored the winning overtime goal against Boston on Saturday night.
"We have a little bit of history with them. We've played them a number of times. It's going to be a man's series, no question.
"They've got a lot of big guys and they like to play physical. It's a good challenge for us."
Henrik Lundqvist made the latest playoff matchup possible as he stopped 20 New Jersey shots on Saturday and coasted to his second shutout of the season. Rick Nash scored two goals.
"It was big for us," said Nash, a first-year Ranger who is in the playoffs for the first time since 2009 while with Columbus. "We wanted to ride some momentum going into the playoffs, and I thought the guys had a great effort."
Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan both had a goal and assist in the first period against New Jersey backup goalie Johan Hedberg, who gave Martin Brodeur a rare game off. One year after reaching the Stanley Cup finals, the Devils will head home early after failing to make the playoffs.
Unsympathetic Rangers fans serenaded the Devils with chants of "Season's Over" as the final minutes ticked down.
"Definitely this is not a good feeling a year after we went to the finals," forward Stephen Gionta said. "Not easy."
Lundqvist was hardly tested in earning his 45th NHL shutout. The Rangers, who wrapped up their third straight playoff berth with a win at Carolina on Thursday, went 10-3-1 in their final 14 games.
Hedberg made 17 saves in the matchup of Swedish goalies. New Jersey was shut out for the fourth time, all in the final 12 games.
"We were not good," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "It was a bad situation that we did not handle well.
"We played some good hockey in order to give ourselves the opportunity to bounce back, but we never found a streak."
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