The Rangers made their game Tuesday night against the last-place Blue Jackets matter.
By powering to a 6-2 win over Columbus at the Garden in their first game since they secured a playoff spot, the Rangers teed themselves up for a clash with the Devils on Thursday, in which second place in the Metropolitan Division standings and possible home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs will be on the line.
It will be up to the Rangers whether the final eight games of the regular season are meaningful or not.
“Listen, MSG is an amazing place to play,” said Patrick Kane, who has called the Garden home for only a month.
“I think it’s a big advantage to have home ice. We have that in front of us now, if we do what we need to do. It’ll be a big game coming up.”
The Rangers seem to be set up for a first-round matchup with the Devils.
Finishing as the higher seed and earning the right to play four out of a maximum seven games at the Garden may not seem like a major factor when the opposing arena is just a 35-minute bus drive down the turnpike, but it should mean something to the Rangers, who want to put themselves in the best possible position for success in the postseason.
“We’re right there,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “Every game is important. I’m not looking at second place or first place, I’m looking at winning two points and see where we end up.”
The Rangers, who were without defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 14th time in the last 15 games, picked up their third win in a row and the seventh in their last eight contests.
Pieces are falling into place. The offense is jelling nicely. Third periods have been a strong point.
And goalie Igor Shesterkin is nearing peak form, which he showed again with 28 saves Tuesday.
This time of year is going to be a grind no matter whether a team is fighting for position in the playoffs or just waiting for the regular season to end. And for all that is going right, the Rangers are still human.
Just as quickly as they built a 3-0 lead in the first period Tuesday, the Rangers’ aggressiveness on offense turned into cutting corners on defense. That allowed the Blue Jackets to make it a competitive game with two goals in the span of 7:31 at the end of the first period.
The Rangers have admitted they occasionally are guilty of sitting back, and their looseness in the defensive zone diminished a lot of their strong play this time around.
“It was a great start. We took over and then sometimes it’s easy to let those things happen, especially in games that — I don’t want to say they don’t mean much, but you’re in the dog days of the season and you’re trying to round out your game before playoffs,” said Kane, who gave the Rangers a 3-0 lead with a goal eight minutes into the first period. “Sometimes you can look ahead a little bit too much. Got a great start, I think after the little hiccup in the first, we really finished off strong.”
Artemi Panarin and the Rangers’ struggling power play ultimately served as the deciding factor. The Rangers, leading just 3-2, pulled ahead further off the Russian wing’s goal with the man advantage at 17:36 of the second period.
The goal was the Rangers’ first on the power play in three games, over which they went 0-for-9 with the man advantage.
Panarin later drove the middle, drew Blue Jackets players and then dished to Mika Zibanejad for a wide-open one-timer and a 5-2 lead with just over 5 ½ minutes left in regulation. Vincent Trocheck capped the scoring with an empty-net goal.
The Rangers did what they were supposed to do to the last-place team in their division.
Closing out this regular season will be a chore, but a race for home-ice should keep the Rangers engaged.