NEW YORK — While the Sabres are thinking about going home for the summer, the New York Rangers are hoping to stay home for the playoffs. Actually, it’s fine if they hit the road, too.
New York ranks third in the NHL with a road record of 25-14-1. The Rangers moved to 20-17-4 in Madison Square Garden with Thursday’s 2-1 victory over Buffalo.
“I could say if you get home ice it’s real good, and if you don’t it’s not that big of a deal,” New York coach Alain Vigneault said with a smile. “Playing in front of your fans is always something special. We’ve got a possibility to get home ice, and we’re going to work real hard to get it.”
The Rangers are jockeying with Philadelphia and Columbus for seeding in the Metropolitan Division. Under the new playoff format, the second-place team in each division plays the third-place team. The fourth-place squad will be a wild-card team.
New York has 95 points with one game left. Philadelphia entered Thursday night’s game in Tampa Bay with 91 points with three games remaining. Columbus has 91 points with two games to play.
With so much going on, the playoff excitement is noticeable, especially when contrasted with the lost season suffered through by Buffalo.
“We’ve been fighting our way to get into the playoffs,” Vigneault said. “We’ve done that. We’re playing some good hockey. We’re ready for the opportunity and we’re ready for the challenge.
“This is a hard-working group. It’s been very committed and very dedicated since the first time I stepped on the ice with them. They’ve wanted to get better. They’ve wanted to learn. They’ve done that, and we’re going to have the opportunity to put what we’ve learned on the table and see what happens.”
The Rangers are hoping to get U.S. Olympic defenseman Ryan McDonagh back this weekend.
He missed his fourth straight game with a shoulder injury but could play in the season finale Saturday in Montreal.
The 24-year-old leads New York’s blue-liners with 14 goals and 43 points.
“I had no starting point other than what I saw the first day of camp,” said Vigneault, who’s in his first season with New York. “I had heard a lot of good things about him. I had heard there was a lot of offensive potential there that hadn’t really been tapped in. That turned out to be very true.
“I think this young man is just starting to break through. In my estimation he can only get better as a player, only get better as a leader on our team, taking on more responsibilities. He’s a great person. I think he’s going to be a real big part of our foundation and our team.”
Right wing Drew Stafford and defenseman Henrik Tallinder returned for the Sabres after missing four games each with injuries. Tallinder’s improved health allowed the Sabres to send blue-liner Mark Pysyk back to the Rochester Americans.
Goaltender Andrey Makarov, who backed up starter Matt Hackett, is expected to join the Amerks for tonight’s home game against Toronto. It remains unclear who will back up Hackett on Saturday when the Sabres visit Boston.
John Scott and Zenon Konopka were the Sabres’ scratches. Ville Leino returned to the lineup after getting scratched in the previous game. He skated on the fourth line with center Matt Ellis and left wing Marcus Foligno.
The Sabres have added another celebration to Sunday’s home finale, also known as “Fan Appreciation Day.” The team will conduct a pregame tribute for longtime broadcaster Mike Robitaille, who is retiring after more than three decades on the air.
Even though only two games remain for the Sabres, the teaching continues. Coach Ted Nolan was unhappy with the length of his players’ shifts during Tuesday’s game against Detroit.
“That’s what separates teams not in the playoffs and teams in the playoffs,” Nolan said. “They do the simple things right more often and not. You don’t stay out for a minute and 10 seconds and think that you have a chance, especially against good teams.”