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Rangers clinch playoff spot by cooling off Senators

Kevin Hayes #13 of the New York Rangers

Kevin Hayes #13 of the New York Rangers celebrates after assisting on a first-period goal against the Anaheim Ducks scored by teammate Carl Hagelin #62 (not pictured) at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, March 22, 2015. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

OTTAWA - The Rangers cooked goalie Andrew Hammond and the red-hot Senators, 5-1, on Thursday night. Coupled with an overtime loss by the Bruins, the Rangers clinched a Stanley Cup playoff berth.

It is the ninth time in the last 10 years that the Blueshirts qualified for the playoffs, and with 101 points, reached the century mark for only the eighth time in franchise history.

"You start off each year and your first goal is to make the playoffs. Goal number two is to get home ice," Derek Stepan said. "We checked one off early but we've got to continue to play and do the right things."

Hammond, nicknamed the Hamburglar for two reasons -- he came into the game 14-0-1 and the image of the McDonald's character on his mask -- was blitzed for three goals in the first period and five on 22 shots before he was removed late in the second period.

Chris Kreider scored twice in the first and added an assist as the Rangers took a 3-1 lead.

The win moved the Rangers eight points ahead of the Islanders for first in the Metropolitan Division with two games in hand. The Rangers are one point ahead of Montreal for the most points in the East.

On clinching a playoff spot early, Marc Staal said: "We did it with 10 games left. It's a little different than the last few years when we were grinding it out to the end, so it's a good feeling. Now we want to finish as high as we can in the standings. It's a great accomplishment."

With 23 saves, Cam Talbot won his 20th game of the season. The Rangers haven't had two goalies win 20 or more games since 1991-92 (John Vanbiesbrouck 27, Mike Richter 23).

With a four-goal lead, the Rangers relied on the league's eighth-ranked penalty kill (6-for-6) three more times in the third period, but the Sens couldn't get any closer. In one unfortunate injury, Dan Girardi left the game after blocking a shot in the third period. He received stitches in the right arm, TSN reported.

Mats Zuccarello had made it 4-1 at 1:42 of the second, beating a shaky Hammond after Kevin Hayes' feed from the left side on a two-on-one. The Rangers then kept the Senators from getting organized in the offensive zone.

In fact, the Senators were held without a shot in the second period until they went on the power play at 10:02 when Rick Nash was whistled for a trip. It was the first penalty called in the game, and the Senators managed just two shots on goal. But Nash was sent off again, this time for elbowing, at 12:31. Then with Tanner Glass off for slashing, the Senators didn't have a shot for 34 seconds of a five-on-three. The Blueshirts killed the remaining time down a man, then Glass came out of the penalty box for the dagger.

Hayes fed Glass on a two-on-one and Glass' first goal of the season went through Hammond's pads for a 5-1 lead.

The Rangers led 3-1 after the first on Kreider's goals and one by defenseman Dan Boyle, who hadn't scored in 18 games.

Kreider gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 12:38, collecting a bank pass from Stepan off the left boards and streaking in to beat Hammond short-side at 12:38. But the Rangers gave it up in 19 seconds. They mishandled the puck in their zone, and Curtis Lazar fired it past Talbot at 12:57. Boyle restored the lead, cutting to the net and taking a pass from Nash at 14:40.

With the score 2-1, the Senators came close to another tie, when Jean-Gabriel Pageau hit the post and Talbot gloved a shot from left point.

Kreider made it 3-1 late in the first period when he scored his 20th of the season while crashing the crease.

The puck bounced up and behind Hammond, and Kreider bulled in to shoved the puck across the line at 19 minutes. He became the first Ranger to have three points in a period on the road since Vinny Prospal on March 12, 2010.


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