NHL

Senators-Rangers Preview

The New York Rangers have assured themselves of having home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Ottawa Senators would be thrilled to be their first visitor.

Ottawa could return to Madison Square Garden next week to open the postseason but may need a win there Thursday night over the Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers to maintain its hopes of qualifying.

New York can start looking ahead to the playoffs but does have some motivation to beat the Senators. Besides potentially wanting to send a message to a possible first-round opponent and sweep the season series, the Rangers (52-21-7) need one more win to record the most victories and points in the history of this Original Six franchise.

"We want to continue to play the right way," coach Alain Vigneault said. "That's what we're going to try to do when Ottawa comes into our building on Thursday."

They are one shy of the club record of 112 points and have tied the mark of 52 wins, both set in 1993-94 when they last won the Presidents' Trophy and the Stanley Cup. The first part of that equation was achieved Tuesday with a 4-2 victory at New Jersey.

"For us to clinch and say we won the regular season is a huge confidence boost," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "It's a reassurance of what this team is capable of."

A rousing welcome back to MSG should await the Rangers, winners of five in a row, and might only make things tougher on an Ottawa team desperately needing a victory.

The Senators (41-26-13) are the only Eastern Conference team which is not in playoff position but hasn't been eliminated. They would need help from Detroit, Pittsburgh or Boston to make the playoffs.

It appeared Ottawa's postseason hopes would take a big blow Tuesday, falling behind 3-0 to the Penguins. Yet the Senators got to overtime for a fifth consecutive game and won for the fourth time in that span, 4-3 on red-hot Mark Stone's goal.

"Nobody gives up. Every night, we're finding ways to just keep battling," said Stone, who also scored in the third period before Mike Hoffman's team-leading 27th goal tied the game with 1:48 left.

Stone has six goals and four assists during a seven-game point streak. The 22-year-old winger has scored in four consecutive games after having the shootout winner at Detroit on March 31 to spark Ottawa's wild 4-0-1 run.

Also carrying the Senators has been Andrew Hammond, who has started all five games while posting a 1.88 goals-against average. He's allowed a goal after the second period once during that span, shaking off Pittsburgh's three-goal barrage in the opening 14:44 on Tuesday to make 25 saves.

"We've had our backs against the wall this whole time as far as trying to make the playoffs," Hammond said. "(Tuesday) doesn't necessarily change that, but we just keep proving that we can keep fighting with them there."

The rookie is 18-1-2 in 21 starts, and the only team to beat him in regulation was the Rangers. That's also the only time he was pulled, allowing a season-high five goals in less than two periods of a 5-1 home loss March 26.

Hammond was in the minors during the teams' other meeting as Ottawa lost 3-2 in overtime at MSG on Jan. 20. Henrik Lundqvist made 33 saves that night and had won four consecutive starts, posting a 1.97 GAA, before giving way to Cam Talbot on Tuesday.

It's unclear if forward Mats Zuccarello will return after being scratched due to general body soreness. He has five goals and three assists in seven meetings with Ottawa.

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