The Rangers and fans celebrate a shootout victory over the...

The Rangers and fans celebrate a shootout victory over the Islanders in an NHL game on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/John Munson

We get it. Nobody cares about the regular season.

For hockey fans in North America, it’s all about winning the Stanley Cup, and so if the only banner the Rangers hang from the Madison Square Garden rafters on Opening Night next season is the one for winning the Presidents’ Trophy — and it isn’t accompanied by one celebrating the Blueshirts’ fifth Stanley Cup — there will be many who will write the 2023-24 season off as a failure.

But they don’t hand the Stanley Cup out until June, so the Rangers can’t do anything about that now. As coach Peter Laviolette has pointed out, all they could do, from October through April 15, was play the 82 regular-season games on the schedule. And when they did, they won 55 of them, more than any other team. So that has to mean something, right?

“We couldn't play in the playoffs today,’’ Laviolette said Saturday, after the Rangers beat the Islanders in a shootout thriller at the Garden. “The only thing we could do is play regular-season games . . . You want to make sure that you're doing your best and make sure you're getting the two points, getting the wins. And if you do that well enough, then you get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.

“You play the regular season to get to the playoffs. And that's what it's all about.’’

So, yes, the playoffs are what it’s all about, and winning the Presidents’ Trophy isn’t what the Rangers came here to do. It certainly guarantees them nothing, as far as winning the Stanley Cup. Everyone remembers that Boston had a historic regular season last year and got bounced in the first round. The Rangers are well aware of that, too.

But having the best record in the league is not nothing. And given where the Rangers are coming from, their fans should take a moment to appreciate what the Blueshirts accomplished this season.

In case you missed it, they broke the franchise record for wins, and points (they got 114, bettering the standard of 113 set by the 2014-15 team). They jumped out of the gate fast, going 18-4-1 in their first 23 games, and they closed hard, going 26-7-1 over their final 34 games to hold off the hard-charging Carolina Hurricanes for the Metropolitan Division title and the overall title.

They met every challenge in what was a thoroughly enjoyable season, and though anything can happen in the playoffs, they seem ready for the postseason. They are healthy — and may become even healthier, if center Filip Chytil can rejoin them for Game 1 — and they’ve shown a resilience in the regular season that allows them to win games in all kinds of situations. They can protect leads, they can come from behind, they can win low-scoring games or high-scoring games.

And no, they don’t have Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews on their team. Or Cale Makar. But they have Artemi Panarin, who had 49 goals and 120 points. And they have Adam Fox, who won the Norris Trophy three years ago, was runner-up last year, and had 17 goals and 73 points (in 72 games) this season. They have Igor Shesterkin in goal, and Jonathan Quick backing him up.

Remember, this is a team that was in a full teardown rebuild not that long ago. The rebuild lasted three years. How long has the Buffalo rebuild been going on? Or Ottawa’s? How long will Montreal’s rebuild last? Is New Jersey’s even over yet?

Folks need to enjoy this regular season for what it was: a nearly nightly thrill ride under a first-year coach in Laviolette who got buy-in from Day One from a team hungry to win. They won a lot, and they were fun to watch.

“That's a pretty fun season,’’ Panarin said after the Rangers closed it out with a 4-0 win over Ottawa Monday at the Garden. “To be honest, I slept well this regular season. Almost every night. So it's good to have that experience.’’

A couple times in the third period Monday, a hybrid chant broke out in the old blue seats. Some fans were chanting “We want Rempe!’’ in reference to  rambunctious rookie Matt Rempe, while others were chanting “We want 50!’’ in reference to Panarin. That was cool, and folks should savor the moment.

Don’t worry about the playoffs today. Wait until the weekend.


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