Maybe David Quinn really is so focused on the immediate task at hand — the desperate battle to try and somehow make the playoffs — that he truly wasn’t able to answer the question any other way. Or maybe the Rangers coach was deliberately trying to send a message to his team about the urgency of Thursday’s game against the Islanders.
Either way, when Quinn was asked Thursday morning if he would consider the current season a success for the young Rangers, regardless of whether they make the playoffs, the third-year coach was having none of it.
"No,’’ he said, before the Rangers took on the Islanders at Madison Square Garden in the opener of a crucial two-game, home-and-home set with their local rivals. "Our success is going to be determined at the end of the season, the totality of the season. We have a goal, and we want to reach it.’’
For weeks now, the Rangers have been talking about wanting to play in "meaningful games’’ as the season wound down. And they certainly have done that. A team that, up until the Devils’ selloff at the April 12 trade deadline had been the youngest in the league, has been playing huge games every night as it has tried to stay alive in the playoff hunt. And since Artemi Panarin returned to the team following a nine-game leave of absence, the Rangers are 16-6-3.
Now, it’s true that 11 of those 16 wins have come against the Devils, Sabres and Flyers — the three teams behind them in the standings — but the Rangers have to be given credit for doing what they needed to do down the stretch. And there’s no question that the 10 players in their lineup Thursday who were 23 years old or younger have benefited greatly from playing in those games.
"We’ve got a lot of young players that are learning how to play playoff-type hockey games,’’ Quinn said. "I think these players are understanding that the hockey changes a little bit this time of year, and every team has to adapt a little bit. And you get away with less this time of year.
"So, we're going to continue to learn,’’ he continued. "But we don't want to learn and lose. We want to win. And that's really what this is all about.’’
The arithmetic said the odds were still against the Rangers in their bid to make the playoffs. With six games to go, beginning with Thursday’s game, the Rangers were four points behind Boston, which held the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division, and five points behind the Islanders, who were in third. Boston had eight games to go, including two against the Rangers May 6 and 8, and the Islanders had seven.
Shesterkin gets start. Quinn opted to start No. 1 goalie Igor Shesterkin, who was 0-3-1 against the Islanders, over backup Alexandar Georgiev, who is 7-2 with a 1.70 goals-against average and .944 save percentage against the Isles in his career. "It certainly wasn't an easy decision,’’ Quinn said. "You could play either guy. And I just felt with the direction Shesty's game's going, and the way he's played over the last six weeks, that he's earned this opportunity.’’ . . . Defenseman Jacob Trouba, who hasn’t played since he suffered an upper-body injury against the Islanders April 20, skated with the team at the morning skate. "He's certainly getting close,’’ Quinn said of Trouba. "He is day-to-day.’’ . . . Left wing Chris Kreider (maintenance) did not play after not skating in the morning skate.