The New York Rangers only had part of the playoff picture in hand when they skated off the ice at Madison Square Garden following a thoroughly satisfying win over the rival New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.
They knew they were heading into the playoffs on a high note and they knew they avoided a first-round postseason meeting with the Pittsburgh Penguins — the powerful top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference.
Henrik Lundqvist made 20 saves in coasting to his second shutout of the season, and Rick Nash scored twice for the Rangers in a 4-0 victory over the Devils in the regular-season finale for both teams.
"It was big for us," said Nash, a first-year Ranger who is back 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."
The Rangers began the day knowing they could finish anywhere between sixth and eighth in the East. The win assured them of no worse than seventh, pending the results of Ottawa's games Saturday and Sunday, and left potential postseason opponents as Boston, Montreal or Washington.
"We still want to get up to sixth," said forward Brad Richards, who had two assists in his 900th NHL game. If you start out in sixth, you could get home ice depending on what else happens. You never know."
Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan both had a goal and assist in the first period against 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 right where he left off Thursday when he scored the overtime goal that got New York back into the postseason.
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 defenseman 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 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.