New York Hockey: Derek Stepan

Five Questions: Your 2013-14 Rangers

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
5:32
PM ET
Henrik Lundqvist, Alain Vigneault, Brad RichardsGetty Images, AP PhotoWill Henrik Lundqvist re-sign? Will Alain Vigneault succeed? Will Brad Richards bounce back?
Following an underwhelming performance in the playoffs last spring and the subsequent dismissal of John Tortorella, the Rangers enter the 2013-14 season with a “clean slate” under new coach Alain Vigneault. New York opens the season on a nine-game road trip that begins Thursday in Phoenix and with the Blueshirts aiming to get back to the top of the Eastern Conference, here are five questions to ponder before the puck drops:

1. What effect will the new coach have?

The most significant change brought about this offseason is the one behind the bench. Gone is the harsh, grating bark of Tortorella, who has been replaced with the upbeat, genial Vigneault. The players seem to embrace their new coach’s positive presence -- no doubt a welcome change compared to Tortorella’s tough-love approach -- but will it yield results on the ice? For as much as Tortorella’s fiery, unrelenting persona wore players down, he instilled a no-frills, blue-collar work ethic that brought the Rangers success. Vigneault’s system seems to give the players a bit more freedom and creative license, but will that automatically translate into wins?

2. What will happen with Hank?

The Rangers’ franchise goaltender and backbone of the team is entering a contract year without a new deal. Though Henrik Lundqvist's camp and the organization remain in discussions about an extension, the negotiations have not taken on a sense of urgency yet. A fierce competitor, Lundqvist has vowed to cut off talks should they become a distraction. That hasn’t happened, at least not yet. On the eve of the Rangers' season opener, Lundqvist said he would let discussions continue but would remove himself from the equation so as to allow his sole focus to be on winning games.

3. Will it be a bounce-back season for Brad?

If there is any one player who has to be the most encouraged by Vigneault’s arrival, it has to be Brad Richards. The veteran center had an abysmal lockout-shortened 2013 season, during which he was demoted to the fourth line and ultimately benched as his game rapidly regressed. Richards seems re-invigorated by Vigneault’s arrival, however, and eager to begin anew. The 2013-14 season has already brought some changes for the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Vigneault is planning to debut Richards at left wing on the Rangers’ first line with center Derek Stepan and Rick Nash.

4. Can the power play improve?

If the Rangers want to make it back to the playoffs, it better. The power play has been a perennial sore spot for the Rangers; it finished last season 23rd in the NHL with an unsightly 15.7 percent success rate. The Rangers have already devoted ample time to work on special teams and have added to their coaching staff to further bolster the ailing unit. Associate coach Scott Arniel will be tasked with helping the group improve its efficiency, though the Rangers still lack a true power-play quarterback with the big shot to keep opponents honest.

5. Are the Rangers road warriors?

Just like the previous two seasons, the Rangers begin the season with a long, grueling road trip on the schedule. Because of renovations to Madison Square Garden -- the third and final phase of the project -- the Rangers play their first nine games on the road and their first five out of their time zone. Those handful of games include some of the top teams in the Western Conference in the Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues. The Rangers should be used to it by now after their lengthy jaunt out west this preseason, but they hope to fare better once the games count; the team was 1-5 in exhibition games.

Rangers set opening-day roster

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
12:52
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The Rangers have whittled their number to 24 with a final round of cuts that pares the club down to its opening-day roster.

Among the notable names cut were Chris Kreider, Marek Hrivik, Stu Bickel, Oscar Lindberg and Darroll Powe, all of whom have been assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League. Also assigned to Hartford: defenseman Conor Allen and forward Brandon Mashinter.

That means a few newcomers -- Swedish winger Jesper Fast and defenseman Justin Falk -- earned spots with the club after impressing Alain Vigneault and his staff during training camp. Remember, though, that both Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are expected to miss the first few weeks of the season as they rehab shoulder injuries.

Here is your final opening-day roster:

Forwards (15): Arron Asham, Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Ryan Callahan, Derek Dorsett, Jesper Fast, Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, Benoit Pouliot, Taylor Pyatt, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello.

Defensemen (7): Michael Del Zotto, Justin Falk, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, John Moore, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman

Goaltenders (2): Martin Biron, Henrik Lundqvist

• • •


In other Rangers news, recently-signed restricted free agent Derek Stepan is slated to skate with the team Sunday for the first time since inking a two-year, $6.15 million deal on Thursday.

Callahan cleared for contact

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
10:31
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Lost in the shuffle of a very newsworthy day in Vancouver on Thursday -- Derek Stepan and the Rangers finally agreed on a two-year deal, ending a worrisome contract stalemate -- was another heartening development for the club.

Captain Ryan Callahan has been cleared for contact.

That's a significant step for the 28-year-old winger, the heart-and-soul leader of the team, toward making his return to the lineup after having shoulder surgery this summer.

Though the Rangers doused any hope he'll be in the lineup on opening night, Oct. 3 against the Phoenix Coyotes, Callahan himself said a few weeks back that he's not ruling it out. Remember also that the Rangers said Marc Staal would not play in the 2012 Winter Classic when he was eyeing a return from a severe concussion; he did.

Regardless, the benchmark is a significant one in that it means the Rangers will not be without one of their most important offensive catalysts for long, a relief considering Carl Hagelin is also rehabbing his shoulder from the exact same surgery and is not expected to play the first few weeks of the season.

Callahan had 16 goals and 31 points for the Rangers last season.

Reaction: Derek Stepan, Rangers agree

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
2:28
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Even though there was a collective cringe Monday night when Rangers general manager Glen Sather took to the team-owned airwaves and criticized unsigned restricted free agent Derek Stepan -- what many interpreted as a clear sign that negotiations would become increasingly nasty and drawn out -- the 23-year-old agreed to terms just a few days later on a modest two-year deal.

[+] EnlargeDerek Stepan
Icon/SMIDerek Stepan and the Rangers agreed to a two-year deal.
That deal, which a source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com is worth a total of $6.15 million over two years, is a steal considering Stepan’s worth to the team.

Although unfortunate, Sather's comments Monday night (he instructed Stepan to be "wiser" about the decision and even dropped the word "fool" into the conversation), were a reflection of the team's leverage in the protracted situation.

For one, Stepan had no arbitration rights. Furthermore, it wasn't like the Rangers had oodles of cash to drop on the 23-year-old pivot, especially considering the somewhat surprising decision by the team NOT to buy out Brad Richards' contract this summer. The team also knew that the possibility of sitting out any portion of the season had to be an unappealing one to Stepan, even more so with his Olympic candidacy at stake.

So the Rangers held firm on sticking around the $3 million average annual value (Stepan's comes in just north of that at $3.075 million per year) and got their probable first-line center under contract with a very team-friendly deal -- one that is very likely to be considered under value market for the dynamic youngster.

Though Stepan missed valuable time in training camp with the Rangers, who are learning a new system under coach Alain Vigneault, he will be available for the team's season opener Oct. 3 against the Phoenix Coyotes. Not having him in the lineup could have been a disaster for the Rangers with captain Ryan Callahan and fellow top-six forward Carl Hagelin unlikely to play (both players are coming off shoulder surgery this summer and are expected to miss at least the first few weeks).

Because of those absences in the lineup, and the uncertainty about Richards' ability to bounce back after an atrocious 2013 season, Stepan's presence is of the utmost importance to the Rangers' success this season.

The former University of Wisconsin standout led the team in scoring with 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games last season, and the Rangers will count on him to be a consistent playmaker and contributor again this season.

Stepan probably will not see any preseason action -- he is expected to fly to New York on Thursday night to rejoin the team when they return from the West Coast -- so he may be a little behind, but as the Rangers can surely attest, a rusty Stepan is far better than no Stepan at all.

W2W4: Rangers at Flyers

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
4:31
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At a glance: The Rangers play their second game in as many nights when they head to Philadelphia to square off against the Flyers, but with a fresh crop of faces following Monday night's 2-1 loss to the Devils.

Eyes on Oscar: Perhaps the Rangers' most intriguing piece of leverage in the Derek Stepan contract stalemate? The emergence of young center Oscar Lindberg. The young Swede has impressed management and coaches alike. According to coach Alain Vigneault, the 21-year-old will get a "real, solid look."

Still no Step: Still unsigned, restricted free agent Stepan has now missed six days of training camp while he awaits resolution with his contract situation. Stepan is the first holdout since Brandon Dubinsky back in 2009. Dubinsky missed eight days before ultimately signing a two-year deal.

Welcome back: Dominic Moore was impressive in returning from a lengthy hiatus from the NHL. The 33-year-old veteran, who did not play last season after the death of his wife Katie, kicked off his second tour as a New York Ranger with the team's lone goal in Monday's defeat. Moore is one of three players who will be playing in back-to-back games Tuesday, along with Darroll Powe and goaltender Cam Talbot.

Fresh faces: The Flyers added to their roster with some newsworthy off-season moves, the biggest of which was the signing of long-time Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier. Philly also brought in former Islanders captain Mark Streit on defense.

Power outage: It's a little early to resume assailing the power-play, but the Rangers clearly still have some work to do. The struggling unit, which was a dismal 15.7 percent last season, failed to cash in on all of four man-up opportunities Monday night against the Devils.

New era in net: Goaltender Steve Mason, acquired by the Flyers in a trade last April, gets the start Tuesday for Philadelphia. The Flyers cut ties with Ilya Bryzgalov via compliance buyout this summer.

Stepan, Biron absent for Day 2

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
11:44
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Derek Stepan and Martin Biron missed their second straight day of training camp on Thursday. Neither player was in attendance for the first day of on-ice activity at MSG training center in Westchester.

Stepan's camp has maintained that he will not report to camp without a contract, and the 23-year-old restricted free agent remains unsigned. The Rangers play their first preseason game on Monday against the Devils.

Stepan's good friend and teammate Ryan McDonagh said he has been in touch with him and has instructed him to stay positive. McDonagh said he's "confident" the situation will be resolved and that Stepan will be embraced with "open arms."

Biron is absent due to what a team spokesperson described Wednesday as "personal reasons." He is not listed among the five goaltenders slated to take the ice with the fourth group this afternoon.

In Biron's absence, Ex-Devil Johan Hedberg will skate with Henrik Lundqvist and the team's goaltending prospects. Hedberg signed a professional tryout to join the Rangers in training camp.

Marc Staal 'back to normal'

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
11:57
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Even though the stalemate between the Rangers and unsigned restricted free agent Derek Stepan continues, Ranger fans can breathe a little easier knowing their top blue-liner is fully recovered.

Following a harrowing eye injury that sidelined Marc Staal for half the season, the 26-year-old defenseman is back in action for Team Canada's Olympic camp and feeling well.

"Everything's back to normal and I'm feeling really good," Staal said, according to ESPN.com's Pierre Lebrun.

Read the rest on the Cross Checks blog here.

ESPN.com's Craig Custance also has a good piece on the Rangers' identity under new head coach Alain Vigneault. He checks in with captain Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan here (Insider).

Rangers finalize coaching staff

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
1:12
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The Rangers have made their complete coaching staff official, announcing via team release that former Ranger Dan Lacroix will join Alain Vigneault's staff.

Lacroix, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant for Tampa Bay, joins assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson and associate coach Scott Arniel on Vigneault's staff. Both Samuelsson and Arniel's hiring were reported earlier this summer.

The last piece of unfinished business for the Rangers now is to sign restricted free agent Derek Stepan before training camp begins. Stepan remains the only unsigned restricted free agent. The 23-year-old center is not arbitration-eligible.

Lundqvist camp, Rangers to talk contract

June, 26, 2013
6/26/13
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Sunday's whirlwind draft, reduced to one day because of the lockout-shortened season, will be a busy day for the Rangers.

Though New York does not have a pick until the third round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, GM Glen Sather has plenty of other important business to attend to, including locking up franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Talks for a long-term extension for the former Vezina Trophy winner have not yet begun, though the two sides are expected to begin contract discussions this weekend.

"I will be speaking with Glen Sather at the Draft concerning an agenda for Henrik's status," Lundqvist's agent Don Meehan told ESPNNewYork.com via email on Wednesday.

Lundqvist cannot even officially ink an extension until July -- the 31-year-old netminder won't become an unrestricted free agent next summer -- though Lundqvist's camp, Newport Sports, and Sather can forge the parameters of an agreement beforehand.

The Rangers also have three other key restricted free agents to sign this summer in forwards Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

Reps for all three have confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com that discussions have commenced, though those talks have yet to progress beyond preliminary discussions.

Rapid Reaction: Bruins 3, Rangers 2 (OT)

May, 16, 2013
5/16/13
10:54
PM ET
What it means: Boston's Brad Marchand scored 15:40 into overtime as the Bruins took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Bruins dominated the overtime period in their 3-2 win over the New York Rangers, hitting a post and a crossbar before Marchand's winner. Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was stellar in preserving the tie under tremendous pressure, but he gave up the deciding goal on the Bruins' late rush that had Patrice Bergeron set up Marchand for the win.

Tie game: After a goal in the waning seconds of the middle frame, the Rangers added another quick score with Derek Stepan’s third goal of the playoffs 14 seconds into the third. The Bruins erased the Rangers’ lead minutes later with recently-recalled defenseman Torey Krug’s shot from the left point, a power-play goal in his NHL playoffs debut. With the score tied 2-2, the Bruins had a few great chances on a power-play late in the period, but Lundqvist delivered a couple of big stops, while defenseman Dan Girardi also came up with a crucial shot block on the penalty kill. Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk hit the post with less than a second left.

Last-ditch effort: Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh capitalized on Tyler Seguin’s turnover, unleashing a blast from the left point that beat Tuukka Rask and knotted the score at 1 with just 1.3 seconds left in the second period. Center Derick Brassard earned an assist on the play; he now has 10 points in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Trickle through: Lundqvist barely recovered in time after losing track of Dougie Hamilton’s drive in the first period, and he got burned when the same happened with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara at 12:23 of the second. Lundqvist couldn’t handle the shot and allowed the puck to trickle through before inadvertently knocking it in himself, ending his shutout streak at 152:23.

Scary sight: Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk appeared down for the count after absorbing an awkward hit from Taylor Pyatt that sandwiched his head into the glass in the second period. Boychuk returned soon after, however, a relief to the Bruins considering the injuries sustained on their blue line.

Getting an ear-ful: Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto went down late in the first period after taking a puck to the left ear on Patrice Bergeron’s deflected shot. Del Zotto, who hit the crossbar midway through the first for the Rangers’ best scoring chance of the period, was able to skate off on his own but he headed straight for the trainer’s room. Del Zotto returned to start the second period, showing no ill effects after the intermission.

Banged-up blue line: The Bruins were without three veterans on their back end to start the series -- Dennis Seidenberg (lower-body), Andrew Ference (lower-body) and Wade Redden (undisclosed) -- as Boston deployed three youngsters on its blue line instead. Hamilton, Krug and Matt Bartkowski drew into the Bruins' lineup to replace the injured trio.

Up Next: Game 2, Rangers at Bruins, Sunday at 3 p.m.

Rangers relieved, ready to rock for Gm. 4

May, 7, 2013
5/07/13
12:00
AM ET
Derek Stepan Debby Wong/USA TODAY SportsDerek Stepan sunk the game-winning goal in the third period of the Rangers' Game 3 victory at MSG.
Even when New York Rangers coach John Tortorella pleaded for a respite from his lengthy postgame press conference -- asking his PR exec, “Can you get me the hell outta here?" -- he did so with a sardonic smile.

That sort of levity was a luxury Tortorella couldn’t afford after his team went down 2-0 in the series against the Washington Capitals, but there was a sense of relief and encouragement after the Rangers topped Washington 4-3 in Game 3 Monday at Madison Square Garden.

A three-game deficit would’ve been a daunting one, and it was clear the Rangers were desperate to avoid that hole as they outlasted the Capitals to whittle the series edge, 2-1.

Buoyed by the return of defenseman Marc Staal and bolstered by key contributions throughout their lineup Monday, the Rangers now have the chance to even the series Wednesday on home ice.

“There was a lot of determination going into this game,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who finished the night with 28 saves. “We knew we had to win this one. It was a must-win. We really stepped up as a group and they kept coming. They’re a good team and you have to respect that, but we scored some big goals tonight.”

Top center Derek Stepan, who paced the Rangers in scoring with 44 points in the regular season, tallied his first goal of the playoffs to snap a 3-3 tie in the third period. Stepan’s expert deflection off a pass from Rick Nash stood up as the deciding goal with 6:25 remaining in regulation.

It was both Stepan's and Nash’s first point of the playoffs -- a key contribution from two of the team’s most dynamic forwards.

"Early on tonight, I had a little struggle. The first two periods, I just seemed to be a step behind or something,” Stepan said. “It was a good goal for me, it definitely helped. But it doesn’t go in the back of the net without a pass like that from Rick Nash and a play by [defenseman Ryan McDonagh] at the blue line.”

The Rangers also received a stellar three-point (one goal, two assists) performance out of center Derick Brassard, who made a great pass to set up Arron Asham’s third-period marker, and Brian Boyle, who gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead early in the first just as the team’s first power play expired.

Boyle also added an assist and finished with a game-high 14-for-21 from the faceoff circle.

“We get some good minutes from Brian Boyle, [Derick Brassard] and a number of people helped out here tonight,” Tortorella said. "We’re going to need that if we want to stay alive.”

Also vital was the glimpse of life shown on the Rangers' power play, which entered Monday’s game an anemic 0-for-7. Although Boyle’s marker at 12:50 of the first came at the expiry of Joel Ward's high-sticking penalty, Brassard’s goal in the second came on the power play. The Rangers moved the puck and got more good looks at the net, enabling them to pressure Braden Holtby as the Capitals took a whopping six penalties through the first 26:32 of play.

Holtby didn’t blame those in front of him, though. The Capitals’ penalty kill has otherwise been stout throughout the series, surrendering only one of 13 goals while down a man thus far.

“I am guilty as well,” he said. “I didn’t think it was terrible on our part. I don’t think we were taking lazy penalties. I just think it was one of those games where it could have gone either way. We took too many penalties. Our PK was still good, but it’s tough to gain momentum with that.”

Perhaps the best special teams moment for either team was the Rangers killing off a 6-on-4 late in the game. With alternate captain Brad Richards in the box for slashing with 1:56 left in the game, and Holtby pulled for the extra attacker, the Rangers were stingy in their own end. They shut the door on what has been a dangerous Caps power play to lock up Game 3.

Alex Ovechkin, who had a point in each of the first two games of the series, was held off the score sheet Monday.

“Obviously, we would like to score there,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who scored the game’s first goal on a deflection. We’ve got to execute and get some shots through at least. We have to do a better job.”

Said Capitals coach Adam Oates:

“We were probably a little too cute with it.”

For the first time this series, it will be the Capitals second-guessing those critical plays, those mere inches surrendered. Meanwhile, the Rangers gain some traction -- and confidence -- heading into Game 4.

“I think, the guys, we had some fun tonight,” Brassard said. “I think in Washington we were grabbing our sticks a little too hard. Tonight we just had fun. We made plays. We put some pucks on net. That’s what we need to do the rest of the series.”

Derek Stepan at top of his game

April, 30, 2013
4/30/13
6:42
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- There were times during the first half of this season that Rangers coach John Tortorella wondered if Derek Stepan was fit to handle the responsibilities of the team's second-line center.

Now?

The 22-year-old pivot is the unequivocal choice to center the team's top line between speedy winger Carl Hagelin and captain Ryan Callahan.

"He's a 22-year-old guy that I use in every freaking situation," Tortorella said of Stepan. "He has proven to all of us that he has taken a huge step this year."

[+] EnlargeDerek Stepan
Icon/SMIDerek Stepan delivered eight goals and 11 assists during a big April.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was voted the team's MVP of the regular season, but among forwards, Stepan has been the team's most dynamic and consistent performer.

The Rangers, and Stepan, hope that continues once the playoffs begin with a first-round matchup against the Capitals on Thursday.

"That's what we'd like to do, obviously," Stepan said. "The way we're playing as a team, we'd like to carry that over. As a team, we've gotten better. You can just see it. We control games more."

In his third year as a pro, Stepan finished the regular season strong with eight goals (including three game-winners), 19 points and a plus-14 rating in the month of April, good enough to earn him accolades as the NHL's third star.

The Rangers will need him to sustain a high level of production if they are to contend with a supremely talented cast of offensive players for the Capitals in Round 1 of the playoffs.

"I am totally confident that he's going to be able to handle the things going into this playoff series," Tortorella said.

Stepan finished with one goal and nine points in 20 playoff games for the Rangers last spring. He recorded four assists in the team's second-round series against the Capitals.

But this year he plays a decidedly more important role as the catalyst to the team's offense, which heads into the postseason with an improved 2.62 goals per game (15th, NHL) following a stretch in which the Rangers were ranked dead last.

Beyond his versatility -- Stepan kills penalties and plays up front on the team's first power-play unit -- his greatest asset may be that he makes those around him better.

Linemate Ryan Callahan is riding a seven-game points streak (five goals, six assists) heading into the playoffs, while Rick Nash (now on a line with Mats Zuccarello and Brad Richards) played some of his best hockey to date while flanking Stepan on the right.

"I definitely had a good month. I felt good going into games. I was playing with a good confidence level," Stepan said. "Whoever I was playing with, I seem to develop chemistry with quick and those guys seemed to help quite a bit wherever I was. When you build chemistry like that it, helps your game."

Despite his youth, Stepan is practically a grizzled vet in the sense that he is preparing to face the Capitals for the third consecutive postseason.

He'll draw upon that experience but he knows that, once playoffs come, it's hard to know what to expect.

"You've been through it now and you get that aspect of it, but every playoffs is gonna be new and it's gonna be exciting," Stepan said. "It's gonna have a different feel to it."

Stepan named April's third star

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
12:28
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With a standout 19-point effort, Rangers center Derek Stepan was named the NHL's third star for the month of April.

The 22-year-old pivot finished second in scoring with 19 points, behind April's first star Alex Ovechkin, and recorded a plus-14 rating in 14 games.

Stepan, who centers the Rangers' top line between winger Carl Hagelin and captain Ryan Callahan, also added three game-winning goals during that span.

Ovehckin, whom the Rangers will face in the first round of the playoffs beginning with Game 1 on Thursday, scorched the competition for top honors. He finished the month with 14 goals and 22 points in 13 games en route to the Capitals 11-1-1 record down the stretch.

Blues goaltender Brian Elliott nabbed the second star of the month with an 11-2-0 record, 1.28 goals against average, .948 save percentage and three shutouts in 13 games.

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 4, Devils 0

April, 27, 2013
4/27/13
5:45
PM ET
What it means: The Rangers avoided a matchup against the dominant Pittsburgh Penguins with a 4-0 win against the Devils in the regular-season finale at Madison Square Garden Saturday. Held off the scoresheet in three games heading into's Saturday's matinee, Rick Nash tallied twice for the Rangers, who closed out the season with 56 points. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 20 saves in his 14th consecutive start to record his second shutout of the season. Now, the Rangers will face the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Another chance: Dragged down on a breakaway that went un-penalized earlier in the period, Nash went on to notch his 20th goal of the season anyway, beating Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg for a 3-0 Rangers lead in the second. Extending his point streak to six games, alternate captain Brad Richards made a seamless feed to Nash at the left circle with 2:37 remaining in the middle frame. That line connected again in the third period for Nash's second goal of the day -- and 21st of the season -- after Mats Zucccarello found Nash for a 4-goal Rangers lead, with Richards picking up a secondary assist. Richards has registered five goals and 11 points over the last six games.

Top line: The Rangers’ top line of Carl Hagelin, Dererk Stepan and Ryan Callahan led the way for the Blueshirts in the first, securing a 2-0 lead heading into the intermission. Callahan fed Stepan from behind the net for a 1-0 Rangers lead 2:37 into play. Stephan returned the favor later in the period, intercepting a pass at the red line and dishing off to Callahan who beat Hedberg five-hole for a shorthanded goal with less than a minute to play.

No Clowe: The Rangers were without Ryane Clowe, who suffered an undisclosed injury in Thursday’s playoff-clinching win over Carolina. Kris Newbury was recalled from the minors to replace Clowe in the lineup. Meanwhile, gritty forward Arron Asham returned to the lineup after missing Thursday’s game to be with his wife, who gave birth that night.

Brodeur on bench: With the Devils already eliminated from playoff contention (the Rangers officially ousted them last week), goaltender Martin Brodeur sat out the season’s finale. That didn’t stop Rangers fans from taunting him while on the bench, however. The crowd at MSG chanted “We want Marty!” throughout the game and jeered the future Hall of Famer even when it was Hedberg who surrendered a goal.

Up Next: Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals; against the Washington Capitals.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Panthers

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
12:33
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At a glance: Coming off Tuesday’s worrisome 4-2 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia, the Rangers brace for a critical back-to-back set that begins Thursday at home against the Florida Panthers and concludes Friday night with a road match against the Buffalo Sabres. With a loose grip on eighth place in the Eastern Conference, the Blueshirts need to capitalize against a pair of weak opponents. Florida is dead last in the East, while a stubborn 10th-place Sabres squad remains in the hunt, trailing the Rangers by a mere two points in the standings.

Watch out for Winnipeg: As the Rangers try to protect their spot among the top eight playoff teams, Winnipeg is threatening to pass them with a win over Carolina Thursday. Both teams are tied with 46 points, though the Rangers have a game in hand. The Jets hold the second tie-breaker however, with three more regulation or overtime wins (20) than the Rangers (17) heading into Thursday’s action.

Back for more: After shuttling between the big club and the Connecticut Whale several times this season, Chris Kreider is back with the Rangers again in wake of an injury to beleaguered forward Brian Boyle. Kreider, recalled Wednesday, has struggled to create a defined role. The 21-year-old winger, who was a stunning success during his NHL debut in the playoffs last spring, has been limited to two goals and one assist in 17 games.

Stepan shaken up: It is assumed that Derek Stepan will play Thursday, though he missed practice Wednesday less than 24 hours after taking a questionable hit in the third period of the Rangers' loss to the Flyers. Stepan also did not skate Thursday during the team’s optional morning skate, but only five players and one goaltender participated.

Slumping to finish line: Instead of relishing their roles as spoilers as the end of the season nears, the Panthers appear to be cooked. Florida has dropped three straight games; most recently, a 5-2 loss to the Islanders on Tuesday.

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