Rangers-Blue Jackets Preview
The sound of boos cascading down from the Madison Square Garden crowd doesn't exactly breed confidence for the New York Rangers as they look to clinch a postseason spot in the season's final week.
Maybe a shift to the road Monday night will help them finally secure their sixth straight playoff berth when they go for a sweep of the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Rangers (43-26-9) are 0 for 2 in attempts to clinch with a win against teams with essentially no chance to make the postseason, falling 4-3 on the road to Carolina on Thursday and by the same score at home to Buffalo on Saturday.
The loss to the young Sabres was New York's third straight, and it was accompanied by the MSG faithful voicing their displeasure. Two nights after blowing a third-period lead against the Hurricanes, the Rangers surrendered three early goals and Henrik Lundqvist was pulled less than 21 minutes in.
It leaves them with a two-point lead for the Metropolitan Division's third and final automatic playoff berth, with a tight three-team race for the Eastern Conference's two wild-card spots the next alternative.
New York has one final shot to clinch against a team out of the postseason hunt in its last road game before closing the season at home against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, the Islanders on Thursday and Detroit on Saturday. The Rangers are 18-17-5 away from home, losing three of their last four.
''We know down the stretch teams are trying to finish on a high note,'' captain Ryan McDonagh said. ''It doesn't matter where you are.''
Buffalo's win snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Rangers, and Columbus (31-39-8) is looking to end a six-game skid in this series.
New York - mired in its first regulation losing streak since going three straight without a point Dec. 17-20 - has won the first three meetings this season and taken four straight over Columbus at home, with points in the last five.
''Again, as a goalie but also as a team, we need short memories,'' said Lundqvist, who gave up three goals on nine shots before being replaced by Antti Raanta.
Lundqvist earned wins on back-to-back days over Columbus in early October, allowing four goals on 72 shots. He's won his last five starts against the Blue Jackets with a 1.78 goals-against average.
Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky was in net for both October matchups, allowing four goals in each. While Lundqvist is 8-3-1 all-time versus Columbus, Bobrovsky is 3-8-2 against the Rangers to give him his highest loss total against any opponent.
The last-place Blue Jackets, 17-16-6 at Nationwide Arena, snapped a four-game skid with Saturday's 5-1 road win over Carolina.
Brandon Saad recorded his first career hat trick while Boone Jenner and Oliver Bjorkstrand also scored. Alexander Wennberg and David Savard had two assists apiece.
''It seems more or less the past few nights, it's been happening against us,'' Saad said. ''So to get one of these nights and get confidence and get a couple guys scoring different goals and making big plays, it was a lot of fun to be a part of.''