Rangers’ Nash, Staal will miss season finale vs. Capitals

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The Washington Capitals’ goal of staying ahead of the New York Islanders in the battle for the second seed in the Metropolitan Division just got easier. The Rangers announced that forward Rick Nash and defenseman Marc Staal will miss New York’s game against Washington, which starts at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello is being regarded as a game-time decision.

For Nash and Staal, this will be the second straight game they’ve missed while Zuccarello is in danger of being absent for his third straight contest. Although the Rangers’ decision to scratch all three of them on Thursday was seen by many as an effort to rest some of their players before the start of the playoffs, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault insisted that all three of them were held out due to injuries.

While many players are presumably less than 100% at this point, the question is if those three would have been able to play on Thursday or today if needed. The Rangers have already clinched the Presidents’ Trophy, so the fact that three of their top players might be out this afternoon doesn’t really hurt them. It becomes a big issue though if Nash, Staal, and Zuccarello aren’t available for Game 1 of the first round.

The chances of at least some of them being ready for the playoffs is good though given that Nash said he “felt normal” after Friday’s skate and Zuccarello reported that he was feeling better, per the Bergen Record. Staal didn’t skate on Friday though.

‘No doubt’ St. Louis wants to play next year, retire a Ranger

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Though Martin St. Louis and the New York Rangers have decided to put off contract talks ’til the offseason, St. Louis has — very publicly — let his position be known.

“There’s no doubt that I want to play next year. Period,” St. Louis said, per the New York Post. “And for sure, yes, I want to play here. I want to finish my career as a Ranger.

“There’s no doubt about that either.”

St. Louis, who turns 40 in June, is in the last year of a deal that pays $5.65M annually. He’s had a bit of a down season offensively, but still racked up 21 goals and 50 points in 73 games.

On the surface, his age and declining production point towards a pay cut. The Rangers dropped some significant coin on a couple of pending free agents already this season — $18 million for Mats Zuccarello, $34.2 million for Marc Staal — and it remains to be seen where St. Louis falls on this summer’s priority chart, given GM Glen Sather needs to orchestrate new deals for the likes of Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, Carl Hagelin and Jesper Fast.

It’s also likely that St. Louis’ on-ice role would be reduced as well. If this season has shown anything, it’s that the Rangers’ future has arrived, especially at forward — Fast has performed well in his first full NHL season, Miller looks like he’s figured things out, rookie Kevin Hayes has enjoyed a solid freshman campaign and Chris Kreider is a blossoming power forward.

What do all those guys have in common?

None have turned 24 yet.

Of course, this might not matter. St. Louis is completely invested in being a Ranger, meaning he may be more than willing to accept reductions in both salary and ice time to stick on Broadway. That would be a major boon for Sather, who’s already got a tricky cap situation on his hands — one that could be further compounded if the ceiling’s only raised a minimal amount.

Taking care of business: Senators blank Rangers

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The Ottawa Senators still need some help to make the playoffs, but they’re doing whatever they can to make life difficult for the teams ahead of them in the East race.

After a sluggish start in a 0-0 first period against the New York Rangers, the Senators took over in the middle frame, eventually earning an enormous 3-0 win.

Kyle Turris continues to be a huge difference-maker for the Senators, as he (as well as Clarke MacArthur) factored into the first two tallies with a goal and an assist. Of course, Andrew Hammond stood out the most as usual, stopping 26 shots for his third shutout and 19th win of the season. “The Hamburglar” is now a ridiculous 19-1-2 as he continues his storybook season.

At the moment, the Senators find themselves with 97 points and one game left, placing themselves in the first wild card spot over Boston and Pittsburgh … at least for the moment.

Ottawa has some tiebreaker disadvantages, so they’ll be doing some serious scoreboard watching for the rest of tonight and also tomorrow. At least they don’t have to think up fantastical situations for good things to happen after this win, however.

With the Presidents’ Trophy locked up for New York, the Rangers rested a lot of people, and dodged a bullet when Henrik Lundqvist was shaken up in the first period. (He seems OK, though.)

Considering how bleak things were for the Senators when they fired Paul MacLean, it’s remarkable how far they’ve come. We’ll find out if it will be enough very soon.

Jackets prospect Reilly going pro — but maybe not for Columbus

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The saga of Blue Jackets draftee Mike Reilly has taken another turn.

Reilly, a Hobey Baker candidate that Columbus took in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, announced he’s leaving the University of Minnesota and will turn pro next season, but played coy as to where he’d sign.

“[I] will not be returning [next season] and will know more after the [World Championships] tournament,” Reilly said, per the Star-Tribune. “I don’t want to talk too much about my situation.

“But I am going to worlds the 25th [of April] and I’m very excited.”

Reilly is expected to be named to Team USA for the Worlds, which will be played in the Czech Republic from May 1-17, allowing him to further stave off a decision about his professional future. If he doesn’t sign with the Jackets before June 1, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with a different NHL club.

That’s important, because the 21-year-old defenseman is held in high regard. He’s a two-time All-American that, this season, became the first d-man in nearly 20 years to lead the Golden Gophers in scoring. The Jackets want him in the fold, now, and haven’t been shy about expressing as much.

More on that, from the Dispatch:

[Jackets GM Jarmo] Kekalainen and company have tried hard to woo him.

Last spring, they played host to him at Nationwide Arena for the two home playoff games against Pittsburgh. When the Blue Jackets played in St. Paul, Minn., on Jan. 19, Reilly watched the morning skate with Davidson and Kekalainen. When the Blue Jackets traded defenseman James Wisniewski, Kekalainen mentioned Reilly as a player who has a clearer path to an NHL job.

“Mike Reilly is having a great year in Minnesota,” Kekalainen said. “He’s a prospect we believe in, and he’ll be stepping into some big shoes with our organization. We look forward to getting him signed.”

The feelings don’t appear to be mutual, however. Reilly’s repeatedly deflected questions about signing in Columbus and now, Golden Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel is following suit.

“I talked to [Reilly] last week when we had our season-ending meetings. Mike is going to sign, it’s just a matter of who he’s going to sign with. He’s got options,” Guentzel told the Star-Tribune. “He’s going to make a decision sometime in May [or June] what he’s going to do.

“He’s 21 and he’s earned that right and opportunity, and he’s in a good situation. I really respect how much Columbus has tried to go after him and I think he’d be in a good situation there, but he has to make the decision that is best for him.”

Should Reilly balk on signing with Columbus and go unrestricted, he’d be following in the footsteps of Kevin Hayes and Justin Schultz, who spurned the teams that drafted them — the Blackhawks and Ducks — to sign with the Rangers and Oilers, respectively.

It’s also worth noting that Reilly’s dad, also named Mike, is a minority owner of the Minnesota Wild, which has led to speculation that the younger Reilly could opt to sign with his hometown team.

Update: As pointed out in several places, Reilly’s coach at the Worlds is (pending formal announcement) Todd Richards — the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Which could make for an interesting dynamic.

Goalie nods: After 39 straight starts, Dubnyk gets a rest

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News and notes from around the crease…

“Duuuuuuubs” takes a break

For the first time since Jan. 15, the Minnesota Wild will start a goalie not named Devan Dubnyk.

Dubnyk, who’s made 39 consecutive starts — one with Arizona, 38 with the Wild — will be dropped from the lineup entirely tonight as Darcy Kuemper will start in goal against Nashville, with Niklas Backstrom backing up.

While kicking back and relaxing, Dubnyk can reflect on what’s been a truly impressive — and borderline unbelievable — bounce-back campaign. He’s 36-13-4 on the year with a 2.04 GAA and .930 save percentage, numbers made even more remarkable given that, last year, he bounced around three different organizations and finished with Montreal’s AHL affiliate in Hamilton.

For the Predators, Pekka Rinne is the likely starter.

Elsewhere…

Sens at Rangers: Andrew Hammond vs. Henrik Lundqvist

‘Canes at Flyers: Cam Ward vs. Ray Emery

Wings at Habs: Jimmy Howard vs. Carey Price

Devils at Bolts: Keith Kinkaid vs. Ben Bishop

Bruins at Panthers: Tuukka Rask (probable) vs. Roberto Luongo

‘Hawks at Blues: Corey Crawford (probable) vs. Jake Allen

Jets at Avs: Ondrej Pavelec vs. Reto Berra

Kings at Flames: Jonathan Quick (probable) vs. Jonas Hiller

Sharks at Oilers: Antti Niemi vs. Laurent Brossoit

Coyotes at Canucks: Mike Smith vs. Eddie Lack