Brandon Prust stood triumphant over a fallen Zac Rinaldo at center ice, moments after the Rangers’ left winger had decisively decisioned the Philadelphia center in a first-period fight.
It was symbolic a scene — a living, breathing portrait of the Rangers’ dominance over the Flyers, both on the ice last night and over the course of the season.
The Rangers will have home ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs following their 5-3 win over Philadelphia last night. The win clinched the Rangers’ first Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference regular season championships since 1993-94.
“It’s great for us,” Ryan Callahan said. “Our main goal was to finish top four in the conference and try to get that home-ice advantage. Once we accomplished that, you set your eyes on winning the conference.”
The Rangers’ 51 wins are second most in franchise history. The 1993-94 team won 52 regular season games.
The Rangers have the best record in the league and have an opportunity to clinch home-ice throughout depending on the outcome of their last two games and what happens with Vancouver and St. Louis.
“It means something,” Callahan said of clinching the division and the conference. “Home ice throughout, until the Stanley Cup Finals. That’s the biggest thing.”
Henrik Lundqvist (37 saves) was brilliant early in winning his career-high 39th game. His diving, cross-crease robbery of Wayne Simmonds 2:01 into the game caused the Flyers’ wing to stare to the sky in frustration.
Lundqvist stymied the Flyers’ initial surge and his mates responded with an offensive explosion. Ryan McDonagh, Brian Boyle, Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan tallied goals in a span of 12:13 to send the Rangers into the first intermission with a 4-0 lead.
“You don’t expect to get four goals against a good team like that,” Brad Richards said of the four goal first. “You don’t script those things. We just happened to be opportunistic.”
Marian Gaborik potted his 41st of the year late in the second period.
The dominance was thorough. Twelve Rangers recorded at least one point and six Rangers were plus-one or better. McDonagh and Gaborik finished with two points each.
Simmonds and Jakub Voracek scored for Philadelphia in the second period, and Andreas Lilja added a third-period marker. Ilya Bryzgalov allowed all five Rangers goals on 19 shots in his first action after missing the Flyers’ last three games as he recuperated from a bone chip fracture in his right foot.
Even though Mike Rupp dismissed the idea that the Blueshirts were in the Flyers’ heads following the optional skate in the morning, the Rangers will have the memory of their supremacy against the Philadelphia goaltending should the rivals cross paths in the playoffs. Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky each went 0-3 against the Rangers this season.
“We don’t think about who we’re going to get in the playoffs. We still have a couple games left,” Gaborik said. “We need to keep our confidence in the last couple games to tune up for playoffs. We don’t want to take it easy.”
Follow Rangers and Devils writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman as both teams head into the playoffs.