The New York Rangers have not only clinched their first playoff spot in five years on Saturday night, but they also got their ticket to the Stanley Cup tournament with nine games left in the regular season. With a 5-1 win off the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers defied all odds. Behind Artemi Panarin’s three-point night, a two-goal push from Chris Kreider and a strong offensive showing from the top six players, the Rangers cruised to their third win in a row. Over that span, the Rangers have outscored their opponents 11-2. With a 3-0 shutout win with the Penguins, the Rangers were solidified at a number four spot in the league and second in the Metropolitan division. Injured players coming out of injury reserve like Kaapo Kakko who missed nearly 40 games with a hip injury, came back just in time to see the Rangers clinch the playoff berth. Recent trades also solidified the Rangers playoff contention. Players like Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp fit right in with the top six and developed instant chemistry with the team. Copp even scored a goal at the Senators game, making his contribution to the Rangers even more apparent. However, the majority of the praise must be placed on the Rangers’ spectacular goaltending throughout the season, done by Igor Shetserkin and Alexander Georgiev. The Russian and Bulgarian players both have 11 combined shutouts so far in the season, attesting to the greatness in Rangers goaltending. Shesterkin, beloved by the fans and the team, had spectacular saves this season, demonstrating his potential for winning the Vezina Trophy, an achievement given to the best goaltender in the league, or possibly even the Hart Trophy, given to the NHL’s MVP (Most Valuable Player).
The Rangers also reached the 100 point mark for the first time since 2016-17 and for the 11th time in team history. For all the opinions that surrounded the Rangers’ success this season under new leadership and coaching, the wins never stopped piling up. Now that they’re tied with the Hurricanes at the top of the Metropolitan Division, the Rangers are looking like the real deal. “I think everyone understood, you look at our roster, you’ve got some of the best players in the world, some young talent, a little bit of everything, probably the best goalie in the world, it’s time,” said Ryan Strome, whose goal in the second period made the score 4-1. “We took that first step. It’s a good feeling tonight. You don’t want to get too high, obviously, on this emotion. Especially the way the last few years have gone, it’s a good feeling tonight.”
The Rangers broke through a 1-1 game in the second period with three goals, from Andrew Copp, Chris Kreider and Ryan Strome. But the burst of scores came after a big-time save from goalie Igor Shesterkin against the Senators’ top-line center Josh Norris, who was denied on a three on two breakaway. Copp then took a cross-ice pass from Artemi Panarin and picked the top corner on Ottawa goalie Anton Forsberg at the other end to give the Rangers their first leading score of the night at 2-1. “He always does things every single night that just make us roll our eyes on the bench,” Kreider, who scored his 48th goal in the second period and 49th in the third, said of Panarin. “Stuff that no one else can do. I don’t think he’s any different than anyone else on our team. He understands that we were on the precipice of making the playoffs and he’s a big-game player to go along with all the things that he does so incredibly well.”
Shesterkin ultimately saved 21 of the 22 shots he faced against the Senators to secure his 34th win of the season. The Rangers are safe from playoff elimination for the first time in four seasons and it can be expected that the Rangers will be set to finish the season atop the Metropolitan Division. As assistant captain, Chris Kreider said following the game, “At the end of the day, you want to make the playoffs and you want to accomplish that goal of winning the Stanley Cup,” Kreider said. “I think it’s made this group incredibly hungry and incredibly focused, this is just the first step.”