NEW YORK (AP) — Two months after starting an improbable playoff push, the Ottawa Senators control their postseason destiny heading into the final game of the regular season.
If they either win or gain a point by going to overtime at Philadelphia, or if Boston loses in Tampa Bay, the Senators are in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Not bad for a team that was 14 points out of a wild-card playoff spot in early February.
The Senators gained control of their destiny Thursday night, getting goals from Clarke MacArthur and Kyle Turris in a 1:04 span late in the second period and a 26-save performance from the remarkable Andrew Hammond in a 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers.
“I think this is probably very improbable,” Hammond said after his third shutout. “The good thing is myself and the team included have just taken it one game at a time. As big of a hill as it has been to climb, I don’t think anyone has been overwhelmed at any stage. We’ve honestly just worried about each game as it has come and tonight was no different. We’ll worry about Saturday after this.”
The Senators are 22-4-4 since Feb. 10, giving them 97 points in the now three-team race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Boston’s 4-2 loss to Florida and Detroit’s overtime loss to Montreal clinched playoff spots for the Red Wings and Islanders, who both have 98 points.
The Senators are at 97, Pittsburgh is at 96 with two games to play (at home vs. Islanders on Friday and at Buffalo on Saturday) and Boston is at 95 with one to go, at Tampa Bay.
“I think when you look at it, we were a little bit down and out,” Senators forward Mark Stone said. “I think we rallied and rallied behind a ton of different guys. Everybody just accepted a role and continued to get better at that role. A credit to our goaltender, a credit to our defense and a credit to our forwards. We just really gelled together as a group.”
Hammond has been the difference for Ottawa. The 27-year-old is 19-1-2 since taking over as the starting goaltender on Feb. 8, and this win over the Presidents’ Cup winners avenged his only loss.
“I think I took it a little personally getting pulled in the last game against them,” Hammond said. “I think any time that happens you want to make sure you have a really good effort the next game. That was important for the whole team to show we were a better club than last game.”
Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored into an empty net with 1:39 to play.
Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves in seeing his four-game winning streak and the Rangers’ five-game run stopped.
“I expected them to come harder but they waited for their chances,” Lundqvist said. “They were smart. Once they got the lead they shut it down. You have to give it to them, it was their game.”
The loss in their regular-season home finale prevented the Rangers (52-21-7) from breaking their franchise record for wins (52) and points (112), both set in 1993-94, the last time they won the Stanley Cup. New York will close its season at Washington on Saturday.
The Senators took the lead in the final three minutes of the second period, less than a minute after Hammond slid across the crease to make a pad stop on Kevin Hayes with the net wide open. All Hayes had to do was lift the puck and he slid it into the goaltender.
MacArthur put the Senators ahead when he ripped a Stone pass from behind the net past Lundqvist from low in the left circle. It was his 16th goal of the season and third in the last six games.
Turris increased the margin 64 seconds later with a deflection of MacArthur’s shot. The puck bounced on the ice after it was redirected and Lundqvist made a snapping glove move to get a piece of it. However, it fell out of his glove, went over his shoulder and dropped into the net.
“We kept it simple,” Turris said. “We played our game, a very methodical game. It’s been like that – finding a way for us during our run. And Hammond was so key for us again.”
New York made its push in the opening 10 minutes of the third period, sending at least a half-dozen good scoring chances at Hammond.
Derick Brassard and James Sheppard had chances from the left circle, Carl Hagelin had a deflection in front, and Keith Yandle and Chris Kreider had hard shots that tested the goaltender.
The Senators had an apparent first-period goal by defenseman Patrick Wiercioch nullified when Mika Zibanejad was called for goaltender interference. The forward hit Lundqvist’s skate with the shot en route, knocking the goaltender off-balance and causing some concern about his left knee.
NOTES: Fs Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello and D Marc Staal did not dress and are listed as day to day. It was the first game Staal missed this season. … Rangers F Ryan Bourque made his NHL debut. … The Rangers were presented the Presidents’ Trophy for the league’s best regular-season record. … New York won the season series 2-1.
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