Powering through all these meaningless games just to get to the finish line of a disappointing season can be hard.
But you have to find a way, Mika Zibanejad said.
“You have to find a way to be a pro,’’ the Rangers center told Newsday recently. “You have to find a way to — find something that motivates you, whatever that might be. It sounds weird, but whatever gets you to the game and gets you motivated to play.
“Whatever motivates you,’’ he said. “If you want to reward yourself with a scoop of ice cream when you get home, I don’t know.’’
Zibanejad finds all kinds of things to keep himself motivated. He was motivated by wearing the alternate captain’s “A’’ on his jersey for Thursday’s game against the Islanders at Barclays Center, which the Rangers lost, 2-1, extending their futility against their rivals. The Islanders swept the season series and the Rangers have not won in Brooklyn in six tries since the Isles moved there in 2015.
Zibanejad was held pointless for the fifth time in the last six games after contributing 10 goals and five assists in an 11-game span from Feb. 28 to March 24. The torrid line of Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast was broken up by the groin injury that ended Fast’s season.
Vladislav Namestnikov got to skate with the top line Tuesday against the Devils. On Thursday, it was Ryan Spooner. Coach Alain Vigneault said he hoped he would have more chemistry with Kreider and Zibanejad than Namestnikov showed.
“You want to finish it off somehow,’’ Zibanejad said. “I don’t know if you can save a bad season, but what motivates me now is, I got to wear the ‘A’ now, too, and try to be a leader and try to show them that I can take that. There doesn’t have to be a letter on my jersey, but to be more of a leader as well, and try to set a good example to the young guys coming in. That motivates me.’’
Zibanejad also is motivated by the idea of getting his game at its highest level as he goes to the World Championships to represent his native Sweden. He hasn’t played in the World Championships before — he’s either been injured or without a contract and unable to risk playing — but now he is eager to play in the tournament, which is in Denmark this year, close to Sweden.
“I think most of our games are already sold out,’’ he said. “It’s a pride thing. Plus, when you’ve had a disappointing season, you kind of want to find something that maybe can end your season in a better way.’’
On Saturday, the Rangers will close the season in Philadelphia. At the time he was talking, Zibanejad didn’t know if the Flyers already had clinched a playoff spot (they still haven’t). He was hoping they hadn’t.
“That would be a motivation,’’ he said, “to get them to join us [out of the playoffs].’’