The Rangers stopped talking about getting back in the playoff race weeks ago. At this point, it’s about taking each game on its own and trying to win every night. The players and coaches, they get that.
And that’s where the frustration lies.
“I’m starting to get sick and tired of standing here talking about how close we are,’’ a glum-looking Mika Zibanejad said in the Rangers’ locker room Thursday night after the Blueshirts’ 3-2 shootout loss to the lowly Detroit Red Wings extended their winless streak to six games (0-2-4). “We don’t seem to find a way to win right now, and it’s starting to be harder to kind of look for the good things and the fact that we’re getting points… it’s just really frustrating.’’
Coach David Quinn wasn’t happy, either. He shook up his forward lines in the third period Thursday, trying to spark the team by putting fourth-line wingers Boo Nieves and Filip Chytil up with Zibanejad on the first line. It ended up not being enough.
“I just feel over the last two games we haven’t been as dialed in as we were in the previous four or five games, since the trade deadline,’’ Quinn said. “And we’ve got to get back playing much more purposeful hockey if we’re going to finish strong here.’’
Henrik Lundqvist, who made 43 saves in regulation and overtime against Detroit — in what was his 850th career game — takes a more pragmatic view, though. With 15 games to go, the Rangers (27-28-12, 66 points) were 13 points out of the nearest playoff spot on Friday, and according to Lundqvist, they are really playing for next year. So, from that point of view, the more close games the Rangers play in, the better.
“It’s hard, but you’ve got to just continue to battle,’’ the 37-year-old Lundqvist said. “I think we all need to understand how important this stretch is for us for next year. To understand… how we should play in a tied game; the decisions we make with and without the puck. Because we create habits right now for a lot of these guys that haven’t played that many games, so it’s important that we try to take every game as a big, important game.’’
Since their last win, Feb. 23 against the Devils — when forwards Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes, and defenseman Adam McQuaid were first held out of the lineup prior to being traded — the Rangers have lost two games in shootouts, two in overtime and one by the score of 1-0. The one loss that was by more than one goal was 4-2 to Montreal on March 1, with the Canadiens’ fourth goal being an empty-netter. They face the Devils again Saturday night in the Garden, before going back on the road for four games next week in Western Canada and Minnesota.