Brian Gionta scored on a penalty shot 2:04 into overtime and the Rangers lost their regular season finale to the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 Saturday night at the Bell Centre. Now the Blueshirts can begin preparing for the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which will begin next week against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Rangers closed out Alain Vigneault's first season as head coach in New York with 96 points, a 45-31-6 record, and a second-place finish in the Metropolitan Division. They finished the regular season with a 9-2-2 mark in their final 13 games.
The overtime penalty shot was called when Gionta was tripped from behind on a breakaway by Rangers defenseman Raphael Diaz. Gionta proceeded to beat Cam Talbot with a slick move for the game-winner. Talbot was brilliant Saturday, stopping the first 26 shots he faced. That goal by Gionta is the first allowed by Talbot in two starts against the Canadiens this season, covering 122 minutes four seconds of action.
A couple hours before the Rangers faced of with the Canadiens they learned that the Flyers had clinched third place in the Metropolitan Division by virtue of their 4-3 overtime win in Pittsburgh, and thus will be New York's first-round opponent when the playoffs get underway next week. So heading into their final regular season game, the Rangers not only had nothing of substance to play for, but they also finally had an opponent to set their sights on next week.
As such Vigneault opted to sit veterans Dan Girardi and Marty St. Louis on Thursday, while deciding to hold Ryan McDonagh out of the lineup even though the team's top defenseman declared after the morning skate that his injured shoulder was 100 percent healthy. In addition Talbot started in goal, spelling Henrik Lundqvist who had started 19 of the previous 21 games.
Despite all that, the Rangers played a spirited game and controlled much of the action. Derek Dorsett, for one, played with a distinct chip on his shoulder and totaled 19 minutes in penalties over a pair of altercations in the first two periods of play. In the first period after tripping David Desharnais, Dorsett dropped the gloves in a center-ice fight with Francis Bouillon; and then in the second period after P.K. Subban dropped him to the ice with a cross-check and followed with another two hits to his back, Dorsett came up swinging--earning a minor for roughing and a ten-minute misconduct.
Though he didn't receive penalties like Dorsett did, Daniel Carcillo--replacing St. Louis in the lineup--also played a physical game, which included a fairly violent mid-ice collision with Montreal's Brendan Gallagher in the second period--one that left both players shaken up and slow to leave the ice.
The Rangers thought they had broken through against Carey Price with a little more than five minutes to play in the second when Diaz's right wing blast off a slick Rick Nash feed beat Price cleanly, with the red goal light going on, as well. However replays clearly showed that Diaz's shot his the far post flush, with the puck then sliding across to ring the near post, too, before bouncing out of harm's way.
The two goalies traded solid saves throughout, with the most exciting sequence coming during a Rangers power play late in the middle period. Talbot made a big-time save on a Tomas Plekanec shorthanded partial break, with Nash ripping a rising right wing shot on goal only to have it flagged down by Price, one of 41 saves for the Montreal goaltender Saturday night.
After a day off Sunday, the Rangers will begin practicing and preparing for their series with the Flyers on Monday.