New York Rangers coach Peter Laviolette.

New York Rangers coach Peter Laviolette. Credit: AP/Paul Vernon

BOSTON — You play to win the game, as former Jets coach Herman Edwards so emphatically once pointed out. And the Rangers were most definitely playing to win Thursday night when they visited the first-overall Bruins at TD Garden in yet another late-season test of their playoff readiness and Stanley Cup contender worthiness.

The Rangers (45-20-4, 94 points) began the night three points behind Boston (41-14-15, 97 points) and were in a crowded race for the top spot in the overall standings, along with Florida, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Colorado, Dallas and Carolina.

So, with 13 games to go before Thursday, the question was posed to the Rangers whether winning the Presidents’ Trophy, given to the team that finishes with the most points in the regular season, is a goal they are shooting for.

“I think in the back of our heads it’s a goal,’’ defenseman K’Andre Miller said after Wednesday’s practice. “I don’t think it’s something that it’s going to make or break our season, but I think we’ve been playing the right way, so I think . . . we’ve earned it. And we’ve put in the work to prove why we should be at the top of the leaderboard.’’

As the chase for the postseason nears its conclusion, however, there are ramifications for the Rangers based on whatever position they end up in. If they finish first overall, they would hold home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final. If they are first in the Eastern Conference, they would hold home-ice advantage in the conference finals, and would open the first round of the playoffs against the second wild-card team, the No. 8 seed, currently Detroit, although the Red Wings are being chased by a number of hopefuls.

If the Rangers don’t finish first in the East, though, their potential first-round playoff matchups become intriguing. Metropolitan Division rival Carolina was just two points behind them entering Thursday — the Hurricanes hosted Philadelphia Thursday in Raleigh — so there is also a race for the Metro title, and a real chance the Rangers could slip to second in the division.

If they hold on against Carolina and win the Metro but don’t beat out Boston or Florida for the No. 1 seed, then their first-round opponent would be the first wild card, which at the moment is Tampa Bay, the 2020 and 2021 champions who also were Cup finalists in 2022.

If they fall behind Carolina and end up second in the Metro, they would face the third-place team in the division, currently the Flyers (who are being chased by the Capitals, Islanders, Devils and Penguins).

So, in practical terms, which matchup would threaten the Rangers the most? Tampa Bay? Detroit? Or any of Philadelphia, Washington, the Islanders, Devils or Pittsburgh?

Rangers coach Peter Laviolette insists he’s not looking that far ahead.

“I love the comments when it says, ‘You don’t want to be there, because of this.’ Let’s lose some then. Tomorrow, let’s take this one off,’’ Laviolette said, sarcastically, on Wednesday. “We’re going into the game Thursday] to try and beat a really good hockey team, and try and collect those two points. So that’s the objective.’’

As to the goal of finishing first overall, Laviolette said he found that to be “a funny question.”

“You get asked that all the time,’’ he said. “But if you’re asking me if we want to win the game [Thursday], we sure do. And then if we go to the next day, if you’re asking me if we want to win that game, we sure do. And if that leads to us being first overall, then that’s the way it played out. We don’t talk about first overall. We haven’t mentioned it. We talk about winning games and collecting points.’’

“I think every game you play, you want to win it,’’ center Alex Wennberg said. “And then obviously that gives you a chance to end up first . . . So what happens in the playoffs, and who you meet, that’s going to come next. Right now, we’re just taking one game at a time.’’

Milestone for Laviolette

Laviolette became the ninth person to coach in his 1,500th game.

“I didn’t actually know it was tonight,’’ Laviolette said before the game. “I’ve said this before, I just feel fortunate. I’ve been in the game a long time, and worked with so many great players, and great coaches and organizations, and just feel really fortunate about that. So that’s a big number.’’

And the milestone happened in Boston, of all places. Laviolette is from Franklin, Massachusetts, and his first NHL coaching job was as an assistant with the Bruins in 2000-01, the season before he became a head coach for the first time, with the Islanders.

Rempe returns

Rookie forward Matt Rempe returned to the lineup for the first time since serving a four-game suspension for elbowing the Devils’ Jonas Siegenthaler. He played on the fourth line. Jonny Brodzinski was scratched to make room for him.

With Denis Gorman

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