For the past month, the New York Rangers have been inching closer to the fourth and final playoff spot in the East.
How they perform over the next four games against the New Jersey Devils could help decide whether the Rangers can catch up in time. The series begins Tuesday night in Newark, N.J.
New York comes in four points behind the fourth-place Boston Bruins, who have played two fewer games. While the Rangers face the Devils four times through Sunday afternoon, Boston will be hosting the Buffalo Sabres, the New York Islanders twice and the Washington Capitals.
The Rangers are 9-4-4 in their past 17 games since a three-game losing streak from March 7-11 dropped them nine points behind the Bruins. New York missed a shot to inch even closer Sunday because while it took a 3-2 overtime loss to the host Islanders, Washington rolled to an 8-1 win in Boston.
The Rangers overcame a 2-0 deficit after allowing 17 shots on goal in the first period. They tied the game on goals by defensemen Brendan Smith and Libor Hajek a little over two minutes apart during the second after settling down defensively.
“Every point counts,” Smith said. “Yeah, we want two, obviously. If we can keep playing this way, keep getting those points and slide in I think we can be a team that can do damage.”
The Rangers settled for the point because of what unfolded early and late in the opening period. A delay of game penalty by Chris Kreider led to a deficit less than two minutes into the game and they allowed a second goal in the waning seconds of the first period.
“Not the start we wanted,” Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba said. “We came out and played better in the second and third (periods). Good sign to battle back, yet (we) couldn’t find the last goal.”
The Devils have split their first four meetings with the Rangers. They scored nine goals in a pair of wins in New York but were outscored 12-4 on home ice on March 4 and 6.
The Devils have dropped their last six home games (0-5-1) since March 18 and are 2-6-2 in their past 10 contests since beating the Philadelphia Flyers on March 23.
During that 10-game stretch the Devils have allowed more than three goals seven times, including a lost weekend with the Pittsburgh Penguins. After taking a 6-4 loss Friday night, New Jersey suffered a 5-2 loss on Sunday when it trailed 2-0 a little over five minutes in and struggled with puck possession at times.
“I think the thing that hurt us the most was our puck management,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “We turned the puck over and didn’t get it deep. That kind of fueled their offense.”
It was New Jersey’s third game since trading Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to the Islanders on Wednesday and in the hours leading up the trade deadline Monday, the Devils traded defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to the Edmonton Oilers and defenseman Sami Vatanen was claimed off waivers by the Dallas Stars.
The Devils also lost forward Pavel Zacha to an undisclosed injury early in the second period on Sunday and he could sit out Tuesday.
–Field Level Media