The New York Rangers will try to eliminate the rival New Jersey Devils from playoff contention and also help their own postseason chances when the clubs meet Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers, who were knocked out of last year's postseason by the Devils in the East finals, can end the defending conference champion's playoff hopes with a win in Sunday's game. New Jersey is six points behind the eighth-seeded Rangers with four games left for both teams.
New York is one point ahead of Winnipeg for the East's final playoff spot and has a game in hand to use over the idle Jets on Sunday.
The Rangers hope they can ride their surging offense to a third straight win in Sunday's game. New York tied its best goal output of the season in a 6-1 thrashing of the visiting Florida Panthers on Thursday before notching an 8-4 win the following night in Buffalo.
Behind Brad Richards' first career hat trick, the Rangers recorded their best offensive showing of the season in the rout of the Sabres at First Niagara Center.
Richards, Carl Hagelin and Ryane Clowe all potted goals in the final 78 seconds of the first period to spur New York to its second lopsided victory in as many nights. Richards also lit the lamp early in the second as part of a five-goal outburst over a span of 2:58, the quickest for that amount in franchise history.
"It was a weird night, in a good way," Richards said afterward. "I'm just trying to stay with it, plug away. Sometimes the game treats you in weird ways."
Clowe and Rick Nash each finished with a goal and an assist in the critical win. Anton Stralman and Ryan Callahan also scored to support a 24-save effort from Henrik Lundqvist.
The Devils, meanwhile, kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Saturday thanks to a 6-2 win over the visiting Florida Panthers. Patrik Elias scored one of New Jersey's four second-period goals to lead the way in the rout of the league-worst Panthers.
Elias finished with two tallies and Martin Brodeur needed to make only 11 saves for the Devils. Travis Zajac had two assists for New Jersey, which snapped a team record-tying 10-game losing streak with Thursday's 3-0 triumph in Philadelphia. The slide began after the last time the club won consecutive games on March 21-23.
Star forward Ilya Kovalchuk suffered a right shoulder injury in the Devils' March 23 home victory against these same Panthers and finally returned to the lineup Saturday after an 11-game absence.
"I think we played with a lot more intensity, just what we needed," Brodeur said. "We didn't do anything special. We just played with a little more intensity and were able to find a little offense for a change."
The Devils are just 6-8-8 as the visiting team this season and they had lost six straight on the road before winning in Philadelphia on Thursday. The Rangers, meanwhile, are 14-6-2 on home ice and have won their last four games at the Garden.
This is the second-to-last meeting of the season between the Devils and Rangers, who will meet again at MSG on Saturday. The clubs have split a pair of meetings in 2013 so far and New York has won three of the last five regular-season encounters.
New Jersey has lost two straight and three of its last four in New York City, not including last year's playoff series. This is the Devils' first game in NYC since winning Game 5 of the conference finals on May 23.