OTTAWA — All Ottawa Senators head coach Guy Boucher had to do was look at his players and he could see how determined they were.
Ottawa clinched second place in the Atlantic Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon.
While the Rangers have had their playoff spot locked up for weeks it wasn't until Thursday that the Senators clinched their ticket to the post-season. With an opportunity to lock down home ice Ottawa came out determined and was clearly the better team.
"I saw (the players) eyes today and they had fire in their eyes today," said Boucher. "I have a lot of respect for them coming out and playing hard."
The Senators' post-season opponent remains unknown at this point, but they now have the luxury of resting players for Sunday's final regular-season game against the New York Islanders. Ottawa has won three straight and is playing with a renewed confidence after having struggled through a stretch of five straight losses.
"This last little stretch really tested everybody here," said Mark Borowiecki. "It just seemed like the perfect storm for a little bit. We weren't playing our best hockey, combined with injuries, combined with other teams coming on strong and bounces not going our way and it seemed like it might get away from us, but I think it kind of speaks of the resiliency in this room, the character in here and the depth."
The Senators remain without a number of players, including captain Erik Karlsson who missed his second straight game with a lower body injury, but said he would be ready for the start of the playoffs, but feels he will benefit from the rest.
"It's been a while since I rested during the regular season," said Karlsson. "The guys did a great job handling things with all the injuries that we had. Come next week there should be no issues."
Boucher also said he expected Marc Methot, who hasn't played since March 23 due to a finger injury, to be ready sometime this week.
Mike Hoffman, Derick Brassard and Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored for the Senators (44-27-10) as Craig Anderson made 18 saves.
Mika Zibanejad scored the lone goal for New York (47-28-6) as Henrik Lundqvist stopped 30 shots. The Rangers have now lost back-to-back games and will wrap up the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault admitted his team, which was missing a number of players, had a hard time following the Senators speed and skill.
"If I look at it from a positive aspect our goaltender got a lot of work so at the end of the day we've got one more game and then we're trying to get ready for the playoffs."
Boucher tinkered with his lines and was so pleased with the results that he thought they could stay intact for the playoffs.
One combination saw Pageau between Hoffman and Mark Stone, while Turris centred Clarke MacArthur and Ryan Dzingel. Brassard looked great between Alex Burrows and Viktor Stalberg.
Pageau, who earned his 100th career point, tipped Borowiecki's point shot into the net to make it 3-0 6:19 into the third period, delighting the 18,976 on hand at Canadian Tire Centre.
Zibanejad broke Anderson's shutout bid in the final minute of play, scoring on a wraparound goal
The Senators came out flying in the second period and were rewarded with a 2-0 lead as they outshot New York 16-5.
Ottawa controlled the momentum throughout the period and took a 2-0 lead as Viktor Stalberg dropped a pass back to Brassard, who beat Lundqvist stick side.
There was no denying Brassard's relief as he scored his first in 11 games.
"It always feels good to score, especially on Lundqvist," said Brassard. "I gave him a hard time after the first goal and he robbed me in the third."
The Senators opened the scoring at the three-minute mark as Hoffman beat Lundqvist from the top of the faceoff circle after the Senators had created a number of chances.
Notes: Ottawa RW Chris Neil was a healthy scratch, as were C Colin White, C Chris DiDomenico and D Jyrki Jokipakka. New York's Mika Zibanejad was making his first return to Ottawa since being traded for Derick Brassard in the summer.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press