ST. PAUL, Minn. - In another mile marker on the road to the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Rangers clinched the Metropolitan Division title and earned home-ice advantage in the first two rounds with a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
The two points, secured by J.T. Miller's deflection of Ryan McDonagh's shot at 6:48 of the third period -- just 55 seconds after the Wild tied the score -- gave the Blueshirts their 49th win and 105 points with five games left. The Rangers lead the Eastern Conference by two points over Montreal.
The Wild (44-26-7, 95 points) were far from a pushover. They have climbed into a wild-card spot in the West, largely because of goaltender Devan Dubnyk's stellar play, and had won five straight and seven of eight and were 11-4 in their last 15 at Xcel Energy Center.
Trailing 2-1, the Wild revved into another gear, and after a string of saves by Henrik Lundqvist (26 saves), Matt Dumba's long shot caromed off the end boards to the right post where Thomas Vanek had a gimme for his 21st at 5:53.
At 1:18 of the third, Lundqvist, playing in his third game after being sidelined for two months, had to come out far from the crease to deny Ryan Carter and then had to reach back with his glove to stop a try from near the right post by Justin Fontaine.
After the first intermission, the Wild found their legs, which took a while after four days off.
For the first five minutes of the second period, they looked like a different group than in the first. Lundqvist stopped Jared Spurgeon's slap shot from the right point and had to cover up, but the crowd sensed some life. Moments later, Dumba cruised down the left side and slid a backhander into traffic in front. The puck caromed off Jason Pominville's left skate and in. When a review found no distinct kicking motion, the Wild had trimmed the lead to 2-1 at 5:24.
After Zuccarello slid a redirection off the post to Dubnyk's right, Kyle Brodziak clipped him with a high-stick at 11:19. But the power play, which included Martin St. Louis, in his first game after missing eight with a knee sprain, couldn't extend the lead.
With 4:08 left, J.T. Miller was bloodied with a high stick in the face and Ryan Suter went off for four minutes. But the league's top-ranked penalty-kill snuffed out the shorthanded sequence, which including a short five-on-three, part of which was defended by a stickless Kyle Brodziak, and the Wild skated off to a standing ovation.
In an impressive first period, during which the Rangers used their speed and quickness to repeatedly turn the Wild around before they could reach the red line, Dom Moore provided a 1-0 lead at 2:09. Carl Hagelin took advantage of Thomas Vanek's giveaway and his shot was deflected past Dubynk by Moore. It was Moore's first goal since March 2.
The Blueshirts didn't sit back, maintaining a forecheck, while the defensemen closed gaps in the neutral zone to break up plays and dump the puck back toward Dubnyk.