NEW YORK, N.Y. - After the New York Rangers walloped the Anaheim Ducks in a matchup of two of the NHL's top teams, defenceman Dan Girardi said he and his temmates just wanted to create more space between themselves and the New York Islanders.
A seven-point lead with two games in hand means the Rangers pretty much have the Metropolitan Division wrapped up. With 99 points and 11 games remaining, they're also in the driver's seat to capture the Presidents' Trophy.
"It's not something we talk about: the Presidents' Trophy or not," defenceman Marc Staal said Sunday night. "It's an advantage to have home ice in the playoffs.
"Our goal is to finish as high as we can and win as many games as we can down the stretch here."
The Rangers, Montreal Canadiens (nine games left) and Ducks (eight games left) all have 99 points with the Tampa Bay Lightning (97 points with nine games left), St. Louis Blues (97 points with nine games left) and Nashville Predators (96 points with nine games left) also in the race. The website SportsClubStats, which charts playoff odds, says New York has a 70.5 per cent chance of winning the Presidents' Trophy.
That's remarkable considering Jan. 31 the Rangers held the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot. They're 19-3-3 since, picking up 41 out of a possible 50 points and passing 12 teams to assume top spot.
Most of that has been without starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, including Sunday's 7-2 blowout with Cam Talbot in net. Staal said he believed "statement games are a little overrated," but this has been a statement stretch for the Rangers.
No Lundqvist and no Martin St. Louis have proved to be no obstacle.
"They don't need a lot of goals to win games," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. They've got Lundqvist out and Marty out and Kevin Klein out, some major players out, and they're still winning games all the time.
"We thought they were the fastest team we played against when they came to Honda Center. ... And you know they're well-coached. They're four lines deep."
Derek Stepan (two goals, one assist) was among the Rangers players who broke out of slumps in a game that Boudreau said made the Ducks look more like the 30th-place team than one fighting for first.
The Rangers, on the other hand, are rolling, and their confidence level is high.
"We're confident in the way that we're going to make plays, we're going to do the right thing," Girardi said. "We feel really good about our game right now, but we're definitely not satisfied."
That's a smart viewpoint given how tight things are atop the East, let alone the NHL. If the Rangers hit a rut, Carey Price and the Canadiens could swoop in and take home ice. Tampa Bay could easily do the same.
The race for first could go down to the wire, considering Lundqvist could have some rust when he returns. Anaheim has questions in goal, particularly whether Boudreau chooses to go with John Gibson or Frederik Andersen down the stretch.
"Right now, I would think that there's no clear-cut guy at this stage," Boudreau said. "We got eight more games to play and then make a decision."
For the Canadiens, it's unquestionably Price. The Hart and Vezina Trophy front-runner is the biggest reason why Montreal is in the Presidents' Trophy hunt and could contend for the Stanley Cup.
"He's amazing," said Ducks winger Jiri Sekac, who was traded from the Canadiens last month. "He's an amazing goalie, everyone can see that.
"He stops pretty much unstoppable pucks. The saves he makes, sometimes you just stare at it and watch it with your open mouth."
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