New York Rangers' Ryan Callahan, right, celebrates with Derek Stepan (21) after scoring a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Saturday, April 27, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
NEW YORK, N.Y. - The New York Rangers started the day eighth in the Eastern Conference. They finished it two spots higher and locked into a first-round playoff matchup with the Washington Capitals.
In their final regular-season game, the Rangers beat the New Jersey Devils 4-0 on Saturday and jumped over the Ottawa Senators and the New York Islanders into sixth place.
When Ottawa was beaten by Philadelphia on Saturday night, the Rangers knew they were there to stay.
The Rangers' win assured that New York wouldn't finish eighth and be forced to face the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins. Now they can look even higher.
"If you start out in sixth, you could get home ice depending on what else happens. You never know," said forward Brad Richards, who had two assists in his 900th NHL game.
Last year, the Rangers finished with the best record in the East and knocked off Washington in a seven-game, second-round series before falling to New Jersey in the conference finals.
Their next task is another meeting with Alex Ovechkin and the Southeast Division champion Capitals. Washington and the Rangers will be meeting in the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
"It's going to be a tough opponent," Capitals forward Eric Fehr said of the Rangers after he scored the winning overtime goal against Boston on Saturday night.
"We have a little bit of history with them. We've played them a number of times. It's going to be a man's series, no question.
"They've got a lot of big guys and they like to play physical. It's a good challenge for us."
Henrik Lundqvist made the latest playoff matchup possible as he stopped 20 New Jersey shots on Saturday and coasted to his second shutout of the season. Rick Nash scored two goals.
"It was big for us," said Nash, a first-year Ranger who is in the playoffs for the first time since 2009 while with Columbus. "We wanted to ride some momentum going into the playoffs, and I thought the guys had a great effort."
Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan both had a goal and assist in the first period against New Jersey backup goalie Johan Hedberg, who gave Martin Brodeur a rare game off. One year after reaching the Stanley Cup finals, the Devils will head home early after failing to make the playoffs.
Unsympathetic Rangers fans serenaded the Devils with chants of "Season's Over" as the final minutes ticked down.
"Definitely this is not a good feeling a year after we went to the finals," forward Stephen Gionta said. "Not easy."
Lundqvist was hardly tested in earning his 45th NHL shutout. The Rangers, who wrapped up their third straight playoff berth with a win at Carolina on Thursday, went 10-3-1 in their final 14 games.
Hedberg made 17 saves in the matchup of Swedish goalies. New Jersey was shut out for the fourth time, all in the final 12 games.
"We were not good," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "It was a bad situation that we did not handle well.
"We played some good hockey in order to give ourselves the opportunity to bounce back, but we never found a streak."
Callahan picked up where he left off Thursday when he scored the overtime goal that got New York back into the post-season.
The Rangers captain moved back and forth behind the New Jersey net and shifted the puck from backhand to forehand before throwing the puck out front to the waiting Stepan, who unleashed a lightning-fast one-timer that beat Hedberg just 2:37 in for his 18th goal.
The pair teamed up again in the final minute of the period while Taylor Pyatt served a questionable hooking penalty. Stepan intercepted the puck from defenceman Marek Zidlicky and send a lead pass ahead to Callahan for the short-handed breakaway.
Callahan darted from side to side as he raced in on Hedberg, and deked enough to open up the goalie's pads to slip the puck in with 58.8 seconds left in the period.
It was Callahan's 16th goal of the season.
"It's been fun so far," Stepan said of playing with Callahan and Carl Hagelin. "Those two guys just work so hard, and when they get on pucks it's hard to get it off their stick."
Just over 6 minutes in, while Hagelin was off for tripping, Callahan had another short-handed chance when he got past Ilya Kovalchuk in the New Jersey zone and came in alone on Hedberg, but he was denied at the right post.
The Rangers looked much better while killing penalties than on their one power-play chance in the first. After taking a 7-1 lead in shots early in the period, New York finished with only a 9-8 edge.
Nash garnered the Rangers' third short-handed break of the game with 6:55 left in the second, but his rush was thwarted by the back-checking Kovalchuk, who got his stick in on Nash's hands—forcing the Rangers forward to his knees and having him push the puck wide of the net.
Nash would connect with 2:37 remaining after the Rangers won a faceoff in the New Jersey end. Brad Richards sent a pass from behind the net out to Nash, who snapped off a wrist shot from the edge of the left circle for his 20th goal of the season.
Nash made it 4-0 at 5:30 of the third when he whipped a shot from the slot past Hedberg off a feed from Mats Zuccarello.
The chants of "We Want Marty" started after Callahan's goal and grew even louder after Nash made it 2-0. The nearly 41-year-old Brodeur watched his team's final game of the season from the bench.
It was the first time the longtime Devils No. 1 goalie served as the backup for a game at Madison Square Garden since May 1, 1992, in Game 7 of a first-round playoff series against the Rangers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
NOTES: Nash reached 20 goals for the ninth straight season. ... Richards has a six-game point streak (five goals, six assists). ... The Devils finished 19-19-10 and 6-10-8 on the road. ... Rangers LW Ryane Clowe sat out after being injured on Thursday. He was replaced by Kris Newbury, recalled from the AHL on Friday.