Vincent Trocheck of the New York Rangers celebrates his third...

Vincent Trocheck of the New York Rangers celebrates his third period shorthanded goal against the Flyers with teammate Mika Zibanejad on Tuesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Rangers’ 2023-24 season will be judged by what they accomplish in late April, May and, if all goes well, early June.

They know that and you know that. Everyone in the hockey world knows it.

And that is entirely fair for a highly paid outfit with a big brand name on the front of its sweaters and big stars’ names on the back, plus a world-famous home rink.

Winning more than one Stanley Cup every 84 years or so seems like a reasonable expectation for a franchise with the Rangers’ resources and tradition.

But it is not late April, it is late March, and this is an excellent opportunity for fans to focus on the present and simply savor the journey before things get serious.

These guys are good — very good. And exciting, too.

The examples are numerous, including that wild, come-from-behind stunner over the Islanders at MetLife Stadium in February.

Then there was Tuesday night.

The Rangers blew three leads in the third period alone against the Flyers, yet won, 6-5, when Jericho’s own Adam Fox scored 36 seconds into overtime.

Thus did the Rangers become the first team in the NHL to 100 points, and the first to clinch a playoff berth.

They got there with three of six regular defensemen out, along with their third-line center. But stuff like that does not seem to faze these guys.

The Rangers now are 48-20-4 and appear to have everything a team needs to make a deep Cup run — scorers, defenders, a top goaltender, a seasoned coach. Heck, their backup goalie has won three Stanley Cups.

ESPN and TNT Sports executives would love to have a problem like figuring out which Ranger to feature in playoff promos.

Panarin? Zibanejad? Kreider? Trocheck? Fox? Shesterkin? (Probably Panarin.)

The Rangers are 19-4-1 since Jan. 27 and three points clear of the Hurricanes for first place in the Metropolitan Division, a race the Blueshirts would like to win.

“It’s a long season, 82 games, there’s a lot of ups and downs, injuries, everything like that,” Fox said after Tuesday’s game.

“For us to stay as consistent as we have speaks a lot to the group and what we set out to do at the beginning of the season.”

But again, it’s hockey, and the playoffs are notoriously difficult to handicap. We are far from knowing the Rangers’ first opponent, but it is folly to guess which opponent fans should prefer.

There are many examples of loaded teams that went quietly against seemingly inferior teams.

Bruins fans might vaguely recall the 2022-23 team that totaled 135 regular-season points before losing in the first playoff round to the Panthers.

The 2018-19 Lightning earned 128 points and were swept in the first round by Columbus.

Seven Presidents’ Trophy winners since 2000 have lost in the first round. Only one has won the Cup since 2008 — Chicago in 2012-13.

The year Rangers coach Peter Laviolette led the Hurricanes to the Cup, in 2006, the Red Wings led the league with 124 points and lost in the first round to the No. 8 seed Oilers.

So stuff happens. That is one reason the hockey season is way too long to spend it thinking too far ahead.

If you attend or watch a game in October thinking about April, you are missing the point.

This is not the NFL, where a Buffalo-Kansas City game in September might have important home-field consequences come January.

You can’t predict hockey, Suzyn, so best to enjoy it as it comes.

The Rangers were off to Colorado and Arizona after their latest triumph, now more intent on staying sharp and healthy than worrying about the standings.

“It’s about playing the right way and feeling good about your game as you approach the playoffs,” Laviolette said. “Then you’d like to keep it consistent in the playoffs.”

There are still two more games in March for fans to relax, sit back and enjoy the scenery. This is the fun part. Mid-April will be here soon enough.


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