The math isn’t in the Rangers’ favor at this point.
At the start of the weekend, their chances of winning the Metropolitan Division were slim. But after the Hurricanes swept the Devils and Islanders in a back-to-back and the Rangers dropped Saturday’s contest against the Bruins, the Blueshirts will need a few things to go their way to ousting Carolina.
First and foremost, though, they need to beat Tuesday night’s regular Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden.
With three games remaining in the regular season, they are four points behind Carolina with a game in hand. A Carolina win would win the Metropolitan — an honor admittedly not high on the Rangers’ minds.
“Tomorrow is a fun game, it’s a first-place game,” said Rangers coach Gerard Gallant after Monday’s practice session. “So we’ll see where it goes. And again, I told you, it doesn’t matter if we finish first.
“I want to win every game. I want to finish first. But by the end of next Friday, when we’re done, who we’re going to play against, that’s the most important thing – keep playing well. It doesn’t matter who you play. There are eight great teams in the conference.”
Gallant’s mantra is that what matters is how Rangers play themselves. That got through to the players. And with the Capitals and Penguins only a point apart, the Rangers won’t be able to control who they face in the first round of the playoffs anyway.
So what matters more than winning the division in the final three games of the regular season is staying healthy and maintaining the momentum.
“The main goal is of course to win as many games as possible,” said Frank Vatrano. “First place is up for grabs, of course, but first or second place obviously brings home ice. It would be great for us to finish first, but we have to win hockey games anyway.”
Rangers could see Pyotr Kochetkov in the net for the Hurricanes on Tuesday after former blueshirt Antti Raanta left Saturday’s game against the Islanders with a lower body injury.
But on Monday it was said that Raanta should at least be available for the clothes for the game. The Hurricanes are already missing Frederik Andersen with an undisclosed injury sustained last Monday. Jack LaFontaine could be recalled from AHL Chicago if Raanta is out.
The Rangers and Hurricanes have both conceded 194 goals this season, the fewest goals in the league (although Carolina has played a game more than New York).