Rangers clinch playoff berth with 4-2 win over Blue Jackets
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The New York Rangers needed three tries before finally getting the win that clinched a postseason berth.
Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan each scored their 20th goals and had an assist, and the Rangers hung on to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 Monday night to earn a sixth-consecutive playoff spot.
''It's tough to get to the dance,'' New York coach Alain Vigneault said. ''People don't realize how hard it is to be able to get an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup. We finally got our checkmark. We can still work for home ice and that's what we're going to try and do.''
Dan Boyle and Mats Zuccarello also scored for the Rangers, who snapped a three-game skid and moved three points behind second-place Pittsburgh. They remain two points ahead of the fourth-place Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.
The Rangers clinched playing down a defenseman most of the way. Captain Ryan McDonagh was injured blocking a shot early in the first period and left the game. Vigneault said McDonagh sustained an upper-body injury and that he would be re-evaluated on Tuesday.
''It was a big block but it was a hard shot as well,'' goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. ''I don't know much. I haven't talked to him yet. Obviously he's a big piece here so hopefully it's not something too serious.''
Lundqvist made 27 stops for his 34th win.
Nick Foligno scored twice for Columbus, which pulled within one with 9:15 remaining before conceding an empty-net goal.
The Blue Jackets were without former Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovksy, who was a healthy scratch by coach John Tortorella in favor of impressive rookie Joonas Korpisalo. The 21-year-old made 26 saves.
The Rangers finally got off to a good start, scoring the first two goals of the game. On the attack with speed, Kreider took a drop pass from Stepan - who picked up his 300th career point - in traffic and fired a low shot that Korpisalo couldn't control. Sliding on his knees and with Dalton Prout on his back, Kreider was able to get the rebound and score on the backhand at 6:17 of the first period.
Early in the second, Columbus had trouble clearing its own zone. The puck came to Boyle and he glided to the net before sneaking a shot under Korpisalo at 5:28.
Foligno cut the lead to one at 14:41, deflecting David Savard's shot in front of Lundqvist for his first goal in 16 games.
Four minutes later, Kreider forced a turnover to create an odd-man break and found Zuccarello, who scored from the slot for his career-high 26th goal to make it 3-1.
Tortorella said Zuccarello's goal was the most important play of the game.
''We got a little unlucky,'' he said. ''I thought (Ryan Murray) played the 2-on-1, made a great block but it comes right back to Zuccarello and he puts it in the net. We need to get out of that period 2-1.''
Columbus still made it interesting late in the third period when Foligno scored his 11th on a nice move around Kevin Klein before squeezing the puck behind Lundqvist with 9:15 remaining.
The Blue Jackets were then awarded a man advantage when Zuccarello high-sticked Foligno with 2:03 to go.
''I thought we'd get it tied up with the power play and see what happens,'' Foligno said.
Stepan scored into an empty net with 1:11 left to end Columbus' comeback bid.
''I really liked the way we played in the first two periods,'' Vigneault said. ''I think it was evident in the third that we were a little nervous. There was a lot on the line but we got it done.''
NOTES: The Rangers host Tampa Bay on Tuesday, and then play the visiting Islanders and Detroit to finish the season. ... Tortorella also scratched 15-year veteran Scott Hartnell for the third time this season. Hartnell has one goal and is a minus 10 in his last 13 games. ... New York swept the four-game season series. ... Blue Jackets C Gregory Campbell played his 800th career game. ... Lundqvist earned his fourth assist of the season on Kreider's goal to tie his season high. He has 21 career assists. ... Columbus D Cody Goloubef left the game in the first period with an oblique injury.