After handily qualifying for playoffs, the Rangers aren’t settling.
The Rangers allowed themselves just Saturday night to celebrate achieving their No. 1 goal of securing a spot in the postseason and earning a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. With the Hurricanes coming to the Garden on Tuesday, however, the race for first place in the Metropolitan Division officially begins for the Rangers.
Their sights are now set on attaining home ice and having a strong finish to what has already been a riveting regular season.
“Enjoy it a little bit, be proud of ourselves,” said Chris Kreider, who is one goal shy of the coveted 50 mark and five tallies away from tying Jaromir Jagr’s single-season franchise record. “But we want home ice. We want to keep pushing, keep climbing.”
Carolina could take sole possession of the top spot in the division with a win over the Ducks on Sunday night, but a loss would tee the Rangers up with an opportunity to take it for themselves on Tuesday. After trailing the Hurricanes for most of the season, the Rangers have closed the gap with a 7-2-1 record over the last 10 games.
Between the Rangers’ recent play and the Hurricanes going 5-3-2 over that same span, there’s a strong possibility the top of the Metro could see some movement over the final three weeks of the regular season. The two teams will square off one more time after Tuesday, as well.
If they were to take over first place in the division, the Rangers could face the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.
“A rising tide lifts all ships,” Kreider said. “Ultimately, us making the playoffs and having an opportunity to win home ice has been the primary focus.”
Head coach Gerard Gallant talked about how the Rangers’ belief really started to come through just after Christmas, when the team went on a 7-3 tear and it wasn’t just because goalie Igor Shesterkin was standing on his head.
In acknowledging that the Rangers have won in a lot of different ways this year, Gallant noted that there’s still nine games left to achieve new goals. Kreider echoed that sentiment, and reinforced the Rangers’ desire to continue trending upwards.
“Being able to find ways to win games during the season was certainly important for us,” Kreider said. “But I don’t think any team is happy with where their game is. Game 1 through 10, 10 through 20, you want to continuously improve. You need to improve. If you’re not getting better as a group and not playing on instinct, and really having a grasp on what you’re trying to do as a group and what you’re trying to do from a systems standpoint, at this point in the year, you’re in trouble.
“It’s something we’ve talked about all year was continuously improving, continuously growing as a group. Obviously, having a relatively young team, still, you saw that improvement every single day. I think that’s a big part of why there was such a good buzz and such a good energy.
“Ultimately, finding ways to win and get two points at any point in the season is incredibly important and just always trying to improve, trusting the process.”
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