At a glance: The New York Rangers return home from a four-game road trip for the final week of the regular season aiming to lock up home-ice advantage for the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Currently in second place in the Metropolitan Division, the Rangers kick off a three-game homestand at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators with a chance to secure a postseason berth. The Rangers need to grab just one point to guarantee a spot among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference. Said Alain Vigneault on Saturday in his pregame press briefing: “Tonight, we’ve got an opportunity -- without the help of anybody -- to put a check mark next to our name.”
Meanwhile, the Sens are finishing out what has been a markedly underwhelming and disappointing season. Teetering on the brink of elimination, the Senators are coming off a disastrous game Friday night in which they led 3-0 and subsequently surrendered seven unanswered goals to the Montreal Canadiens.
Big void: The Rangers will play their second game without top defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who sustained a left shoulder injury in Tuesday’s 3-1 win against the Vancouver Canucks. Though McDonagh has since told reporters he suffered no structural damage to his shoulder and feels “pretty confident” that he’ll be ready to go when the playoffs begin, his absence is a conspicuous one for the Rangers’ blue line. McDonagh had previously led the team with 24:49 in ice time average; the 24-year-old also led all defensemen in scoring with 14 goals and 43 points.
Hemsky out? The trade-deadline addition of former Edmonton Oilers forward Ales Hemsky has been a good one for the Sens, but they may be without him Saturday. The skilled winger left Friday’s game with an upper-body injury. Ottawa’s Kyle Turris has been the hot hand for the Sens. He has recorded eight points over the past seven games.
Playing for position: The Rangers currently hold a four-point advantage on the Philadelphia Flyers, though the Flyers have two games in hand. In order to nail down home-ice advantage, they’ll have to hold Philly at bay in the final week of the season. Philadelphia travels to Beantown to face the league-leading Boston Bruins in a Saturday matinee coming off a dispiriting 2-0 shutout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. The Flyers, the Rangers’ likely first-round foes, close out the regular season with a back-to-back set against Pittsburgh and Carolina next weekend. Asked if the players were aware of the many different scenarios facing the team in the final week, veteran center and alternate captain Brad Richards said: “I think every NHLer has an idea of what’s going on. At least I hope they do.”