NEW YORK – One win aside, reaching the playoffs is still more fantasy than reality for the Rangers.
But, preparing to face the Islanders, the players said there was a looser feel in the dressing room, mainly because nobody but them had any expectations they could reach the postseason.
So whether it was the Rangers more relaxed playing with an us-against-everybody mentality or because they faced a team lower in the Eastern Conference standings, they were dominant in a 5-0 win Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The victory, which snapped a three-game losing streak, left the 10th-place Rangers (32-32-9) five points behind the Bruins for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot with nine to play. Boston has a game at hand.
The 10th-place Rangers’ 2-1 loss Sunday at Boston left them in grave danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Marian Gaborik scored twice and had a goal and an assist in the Rangers’ three-goal first period and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots for his third shutout of the season and the 23rd of his career.
The victory was Lundqvist’s 29th this season and he’s expected to get a chance to win No. 30 tonight at New Jersey as the Rangers open a six-game road trip that includes the Islanders on Tuesday.
Last season, Lundqvist became the first goalie in NHL history to start his career with four straight 30-win seasons.
Dwayne Roloson allowed three goals on the first 12 shots he faced but made 39 saves for the Islanders (29-34-10).
The Rangers led 3-0 at 8:30 of the first period.
Michael Del Zotto, in the right faceoff circle, deposited Gaborik’s feed for a power play goal to give the Rangers a three-goal lead and the rookie defenseman his second goal in two games. The Rangers had outshot the Islanders, 12-2, to that point.
The Rangers, who were 1 for 16 on the power play during their three-game losing streak, had spent much of Monday and Tuesday working on their man-up play and went 2 for 6.
Rookie Artem Anisimov, dropped to the fourth line for the game after a rocky performance in Boston, opened the scoring at 3:12 by lifting a snap shot from the right faceoff circle. Gabork made it 2-0 at 5:45 after Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinsky made a strong rush into the Islanders’ zone.
The Rangers then outshot the Islanders, 17-3, in the second period.
Gaborik also netted a backhander on a partial breakaway to make it 4-0 at 10:34 of the third period.
Though he only assisted on Dan Girardi’s power-play goal at 16:19 of the third period, Sean Avery played one of his best games, rankling several Islanders with his mouth and body work. That started with the shouting match he had with Trevor Gillies during pre-game warmups.
On the game’s first shift, he jawed with Roloson, with Bruno Gervais stepping in and Avery also gave the Rangers a 5-on-3 power play at 12:41 of the third period after Blake Comeau and Gillies both retaliated for Avery’s hard hit on John Tavares. Gillies recieved a double minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct.
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