ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers clinched the Metropolitan Division title, naturally, on the road.
There’s a lot left on their to-do list, though.
J.T. Miller scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, less than a minute after Minnesota tied the game, to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory over the Wild on Thursday night that assured them of at least the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
"It’s a huge accomplishment. There’s a lot of tough teams in there," said defenceman Ryan McDonagh, who had two assists.
After Thomas Vanek scored for the Wild, Miller’s tip-in came 55 seconds later at the 6:48 mark.
"That felt good. I’ve been taking a little bit of a beating here. I’m going to try to go through a game without getting hit in the head," said Miller, two nights after Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien delivered a vicious cross-check to his head late in that game that brought a four-game suspension.
Ryan Suter took a double minor in this game for high-sticking Miller, bloodying the bridge of his nose.
The Rangers improved to 26-11-2 away from home, set a franchise record for road wins and stayed in first place in the conference with 105 points and five games to go.
"You’ve got to play the right way, and we try to do that every time we step on the ice, whether we’re in front of our fans or on the road," coach Alain Vigneault said.
Dominic Moore scored against one of his eight former teams and Rick Nash followed in the first period with his 41st goal for the Rangers, who finished 18-5-5 against Western Conference opponents this season. Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves for the Rangers, who have played one fewer game than Montreal (103 points) and two fewer than Tampa Bay (102 points) in the race for the top seed.
"I feel better and better. Making better reads. I feel more comfortable, and it’s fun to be out there and play," said Lundqvist, who missed most of February and March because of a neck injury.
Jason Pominville scored and Matt Dumba had two assists for the Wild, whose five-game winning streak ended after a rare late-season four-day break.
"They’re a good team. Let’s give them a little credit. They’ve got good players. It’s not just we had a slow start," left wing Zach Parise said.
The Rangers welcomed right wing Martin St. Louis back from a 12-game absence prompted by a sprained right knee, sticking him on the third line with Carl Hagelin and Kevin Hayes. The trio needed just a little more than 2 minutes to contribute, when Hagelin intercepted a sloppy Wild pass at the blue line and wound up for a slap shot that Moore deftly redirected from the edge of the crease past Devan Dubnyk for the early lead.
Nash put the Rangers up by two with his bad-angle snap shot on a power play that hit Dubnyk in the hand and sneaked through his far-side armpit. But Pominville answered early in the second period with his deflection of Dumba’s shot, bringing the crowd back to life.
The Wild were short-handed for more than the last four minutes before the second intermission. During a 5-on-3, Kyle Brodziak broke his stick but managed to block two shots with his body. Marco Scandella turned one aside, too, and the fans roared as the Wild left the ice. The Wild’s league-leading penalty kill denied five of six Rangers power plays and is 81 for 87 in 31 games since the All-Star break.
The fans and players were letting the officials have it over some of the calls and non-calls over the last two periods.
"Even I was probably getting a little bit too frustrated, a little bit too caught up in that stuff," coach Mike Yeo said. "This time of year, even more so in the playoffs, whatever it is we’re not going to change it, and frustration, it doesn’t help us."
NOTES: Nash has 31 points, including 15 goals, in 36 career games against the Wild. … Dubnyk was named the Wild’s nominee for the Bill Masterton award, given annually by the Professional Hockey Writers Association to the NHL player best exemplifying perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication. … Rangers centre James Sheppard, the ninth overall pick in the 2006 draft by the Wild who was acquired from San Jose last month, was scratched. … Vanek has eight goals and four assists in his last 12 games.