NEW YORK (AP) -- What the Rangers wished for on opening night
suddenly wasn't good enough when the regular season ended.
New York is going to the playoffs for the first time in nine
years, but the Rangers dropped their fifth straight game Tuesday
night -- a 5-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators -- and blew their last
chance to secure their first division title since the Stanley
Cup-winning season of 1993-94.
Picked to finish last by many, New York set its sights on just
making the postseason. The Rangers wrapped that up with seven games
left and were in great position to win the Atlantic Division, too.
But their longest skid of the season, no points in five straight
games, pushed them all the way down to the No. 6 seed in the
"It's hard," forward Michael Nylander said. "We had the
division on the line for many games now and we didn't come
Instead of having home-ice advantage in the first round, the
Rangers will instead play the New Jersey Devils, who rallied to
capture the Atlantic by winning their final 11 games. That
best-of-seven series will begin Saturday in New Jersey and continue
Monday in the Meadowlands.
"It's always great to play your best hockey before the
playoffs," Rangers forward Jaromir Jagr said. "They're hot, but
it has to stop somewhere."
The Senators are limping into the playoffs, with their biggest
injury being to goalie Dominik Hasek, who hasn't played since going
down during the Olympics. Ottawa came into its season finale on a
1-4-2 skid, but still managed to secure the top seed in the East.
Dany Heatley scored his 50th goal in the third period, the
Senators' third tally of the period.
Heatley, in his first season with the Senators, reached the
50-goal mark for the first time and extended his Ottawa
single-season record. Andrej Meszaros and Mike Fisher also scored
third-period goals to break open a tight game.
"We all knew coming into this building it would be a
hard-fought game," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "It
was a big boost for us going into the playoffs to win a big game
Ottawa leapfrogged Carolina, which lost 4-0 at home to Buffalo,
to grab first place. The Senators will play defending Stanley Cup
champion Tampa Bay in the opening round.
"This conference playoffs is going to be very tough,"
The Rangers, who led the Atlantic for most of this season, were
passed by Philadelphia and New Jersey on the final day. The Flyers
beat the New York Islanders 4-1 and New Jersey won 4-3 at Montreal
to take the division title.
Ottawa got goals from Patrick Eaves and Alfredsson in the second
period to take a 2-1 lead. Meszaros netted his 10th goal just 1:12
into the third with the teams skating 4-on-4. Fisher gave the
Senators a three-goal advantage with a short-handed goal scored on
the Rangers' first power play.
Heatley finished it off with a power-play goal with 6:12
Henrik Lundqvist, playing for the first time in eight games
because of a hip injury, kept the Rangers in it until the third
period. His best stop came in the second period when he was knocked
over by his Swedish countryman Alfredsson on a breakaway, but kept
the puck out of the net.
"I felt good for two periods and then I got tired in the
third," Lundqvist said.
But his 27 saves weren't nearly enough to outduel fellow rookie
Ray Emery, who was stellar in stopping 27 shots and winning his
23rd game while filling in for Hasek.
Martin Straka scored New York's only goal, cutting the Rangers'
deficit to 2-1 just 16 seconds after Alfredsson scored.
The Rangers were sloppy in the second period and it cost them.
After getting away with a number of giveaways, Fedor Tyutin's
defensive zone turnover led to Ottawa's first goal.
New York won a faceoff near its net, and Tyutin was blocked at
the right point as he tried to clear. He lost the puck to Eaves,
who passed to Alfredsson in the slot. Just as quickly, the puck was
returned to Eaves for his 20th goal of the season.
Another Rangers turnover forced Blair Betts to take a tripping
penalty. Lundqvist made a fine pad stop on Wade Redden's drive from
the left point, but he couldn't keep the rebound away from
Alfredsson, who scored his 43rd goal.
"We gave the other team a lot of odd-man rushes," Jagr said.
"Maybe we are tired and we're making mistakes, but this is not the
way you want to go into the playoffs."
He seemed eager to carry the Rangers, as he'd done all season.
He made passes, charged the net from the front and the back, and
tried on several occasions to jam the puck past Emery. But he
finished with just one assist, leaving him second in the NHL's
points and goals race.
After leading both categories for much of the campaign, Jagr --
who had club records of 55 goals and 123 points -- lost to San
Jose's pair of Jonathan Cheechoo (56 goals) and Joe Thornton (125
Ottawa scored first for the 46th time in 82 games and went
40-3-3 in those contests. The Senators were 12-18-6 in games they
trailed 1-0. ... New York defenseman Darius Kasparaitis played
after missing 12 of the previous 13 with a groin injury.