The New York Rangers pulled within one point of an Eastern Conference playoff position with an easy 5-1 victory over the last-placed Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
Erik Christensen scored twice in the first period to help the Rangers to a 3-0 lead and they went on to capture their fourth win in five contests to edge closer to the eighth-placed Boston Bruins with two games remaining.
The Rangers are just two points behind seventh-placed Philadelphia and will be in prime position to pounce on a playoff spot when they close the season with games against the Flyers today and Sunday.
“We wanted to make the Philly games count, and they do now,” Rangers coach John Tortorella told reporters, knowing his team can advance to their fifth straight postseason by winning the two contests. “We don’t have to look at the [score] board anymore, because it’s right in front of us.”
Christensen set the tone with a goal 21 seconds into the game to send New York on their way before Vinny Prospal’s wrister made it 2-0.
“He was huge,” Brandon Dubinsky, who had two assists, said of teammate Christensen, who scored his second at 10:56 in the first. “He’s been putting a lot of pressure on himself lately to find a way to put the puck in the net. Tonight he got rewarded with all the work he’s been putting in leading up to this.”
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist rebounded from an early exit on Tuesday to record 26 saves for the Rangers, who ended the third with scores from Olli Jokinen and Aaron Voros.
Lundqvist allowed three goals on 16 shots in his previous game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Dion Phaneuf put Toronto on the board at 8:09 in the third to make it 3-1, but the Maple Leafs fell to their third straight defeat.
Phaneuf’s goal was his first in 25 games for Toronto, but leading goal scorer Phil Kessel went scoreless for a fifth straight game and recorded just one shot.
COYOTES 5, PREDATORS 2
The Phoenix Coyotes clinched the No.4 seed in the Western Conference and home advantage in the first round of the NHL playoffs by beating the Nashville Predators.
Shane Doan ended a 23-game goal drought and Wojtek Wolski scored his career-high 23rd goal for Phoenix. Taylor Pyatt, Lauri Korpikoski and Petteri Nokelainen also scored in the Coyotes’ seventh straight home victory.
Shea Weber scored 12 seconds into the game, and Steve Sullivan added a goal for Nashville.
BLACKHAWKS 6, BLUES 5
In Chicago, the hosts scored four goals in just over three minutes of the first period and held on to edge the St Louis Blues.
Duncan Keith, Ben Eager, Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg netted in the early scoring burst as Chicago notched a fifth straight victory.
Andrew Ladd and Jordan Hendry also scored to help Chicago reach a franchise-record 109 points and tie San Jose for first place in the Western Conference.
Versteeg added three assists to set a career high for points in a game.
David Perron, Roman Polak, Brad Winchester, TJ Oshie and Brad Boyes scored for the Blues.
RED WINGS 4, BLUE JACKETS 3
In Detroit, Tomas Holmstrom scored twice and Dan Cleary also netted in a 1:16 span of the third period as the Detroit Red Wings fought back to down Columbus.
Niklas Kronwall added a goal and an assist, and Jimmy Howard made 21 saves for Detroit.
Mike Blunden had a goal and an assist, while RJ Umberger and Sammy Pahlsson also scored for Columbus.
OILERS 5, AVALANCHE 4, OT
In Edmonton, Alberta, Ryan Whitney scored in overtime to give the Edmonton Oilers a victory over playoff-bound Colorado.
Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and Marek Svatos scored inside nine minute to give the Avalanche a 3-0 lead, but the Oilers rallied to take the lead.
Shawn Horcoff and Dustin Penner had first-period goals, Mike Comrie tied it on a power play in the second, and Andrew Cogliano made it 4-3 at 6:08 of the third.
Colorado’s Matt Hendricks scored the third period goal that sent the game to overtime.
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