NEW YORK (AP) — Chris Kreider scored twice, Artemi Panarin added a goal and two assists and the New York Rangers routed the Ottawa Senators 5-1 on Saturday night to clinch their first postseason berth since 2017.
Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp also had goals and Igor Shesterkin needed just 21 saves to thwart the Senators as the surging Rangers improved to 7-1-1 in their last nine and moved into a tie with Carolina atop the Metropolitan Division with 100 points.
The Rangers have nine games left, while the Hurricanes have 10. The teams meet Tuesday night in New York after Carolina hosts Anaheim on Sunday.
“It feels great. … We got that accomplished,” said first-year Rangers coach Gerard Gallant. “From start to finish, it was an excellent game. We came to the rink wanting to win and get into the playoffs.”
Shesterkin improved to 34-10-4, becoming the fourth goalie in franchise history with 34 victories in a season, joining Henrik Lundqvist, Ed Giacomin and Mike Richter.
“Shesty was really sharp,” Gallant said.
The Rangers continued their stellar play at home, improving to 24-7-4 including an 11-3-2 mark in their last 16 contests at Madison Square Garden. An appreciative and raucous crowd gave their team a sustained ovation at the end of the game as Rangers players saluted their fans at center nice with a traditional stick raise with the playoffs assured.
“We have a long ways to go, but we will enjoy it tonight, for sure,” Strome said. “The building was unreal tonight, the energy in the building. It’s just a good feeling. We’ve come a long way as a group. This was a good job from the top down. Now the fun stuff starts.”
New York is eight points ahead of Pittsburgh and 12 points ahead of Washington in the division race and the chance to host the opening round of the playoffs at the Garden.
After Ottawa’s Austin Watson scored his seventh goal at 2:22 of the first, Panarin tied at 12:32 with his 21st goal to send the teams into the first intermission tied at 1.
The Rangers outshot Ottawa 13-3 in the first and continued that domination in the second, outshooting the Senators 12-6.
Copp notched his 17th goal at 6:56, beating Anton Forsberg from the right circle with a high wrist shot. Copp has 11 points in 10 games since joining the Rangers in a trade from Winnipeg on March 21.
Kreider then rifled the puck post Forsberg at 9:05 to give the Rangers a two-goal cushion. Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Lindgren assisted.
Strome made it 4-1 for the Rangers at 17:27 of the second, scoring his 17th with assists to Panarin and Lindgren before Kreider scored again at 17:31 of the third for his 49th goal of the season. That tied Kreider with Mike Gartner for the fourth-most goals in a season in Rangers history.
Kreider, who has nine goals in his last 11 games, is now one goal shy of becoming the fourth Ranger to reach the 50-goal mark, joining Vic Hadfield, Adam Graves and Jaromir Jagr, who has the franchise record of 54.
Asked if he had even briefly mulled the prospect of joining such elite company, Kreider deferred to his teammates.
“The whole year the whole team has played incredibly well. And a rising tide lifts all ships,” he said. ”Ultimately, us making the playoffs and having an opportunity to win home ice is the primary focus.”
Forsberg made 28 stops in defeat. Ottawa lost for the second time in a row after winning three straight.
“There was just not enough of what we usually have,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said. ”They came out hitting, give them credit. That’s a team that is rolling right now. They were the better team wire to wire.”
Panarin, who also assisted on Copp’s goal along with K’Andre Miller, has points in four straight contests and 26 points — six goals and 20 assists — in his last 16 games.
Gallant, who took over after the Rangers fired David Quinn last May, said he sensed the Rangers were coming together around Christmas. Gallant said the leadership core has proven especially key.
“From coaching against that team, I knew there were character guys here,” Gallant said. ”And the younger guys had another year under their belt to get better.”
The Senators, mired in seventh place in the Atlantic Division, haven’t made the playoffs since 2017 when they reached the Eastern Conference finals.
The Rangers won all three games against Ottawa, sweeping the season series for the first time since 1994-95.
Rangers forwards Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney returned after lengthy absences with injuries. Kakko had missed 31 games, having last played Jan. 21, while Rooney hadn’t played since March 2.
NOTES: New York scored three or more goals for a fourth straight game and have three or more goals in nine of its last 10 games. … The Rangers were without forwards Tyler Motte and Filip Chytil — both absent with upper-body injuries — and New York also scratched forwards Julien Gauther, Greg McKegg and Johnny Brodzinksi plus defenseman Libor Hajek. … The Senators scratched forwards Tim Stutzle and Drake Batherson in addition to defensemen Jake Sanderson and Victor Mete.
Rangers: Host the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
Senators: Return home to host the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday.
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