Mika Zibanejad of the Rangers celebrates his third period goal against the...

Mika Zibanejad of the Rangers celebrates his third period goal against the Blue Jackets with teammates Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Rangers clinched a playoff spot Monday night without even stepping on the ice, as losses by the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres stamped their ticket to the postseason

. And on Tuesday at the Garden, the Blueshirts were tasked with entertaining the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets — and making sure that they didn’t look past their opponent while thinking about the next game on the schedule.

And that wasn’t necessarily easy.

“I’m not going to come in here and say everybody was super jacked, as much as you'd like to be,’’ captain Jacob Trouba said, after the Rangers took care of business with a fairly easy 6-2 win over the Blue Jackets. “For sure, you get through that game. We  gave up more chances than we'd like, but scored a lot of goals, and got an opportunities to score. So we’ll just kind of, flush that one, put it behind us. And we’ve got a big one coming up.’’

That would be Thursday in Newark when the Rangers visit the Devils at Prudential Center in a battle between two teams in a race for second place in the Metropolitan Division, and the right to have home ice advantage in a potential first-round playoff series between them.

Having won nine of their last 11 games (9-1-1) the third-place Rangers (44-20-10, 98 points) are now within two points of the Devils (46-20-8, 100), meaning a win Thursday in regulation time would leave the two teams tied for second with seven games remaining.

And even coach Gerard Gallant, who tries to keep the players even-keeled, and focused on cranking out good performances every night regardless of the opponent, seemed excited.

“Yeah, it's a huge game,’’ Gallant said. “I mean, Thursday should be a lot of fun. Two teams battling, and I think we're two points behind them . . .  There's still seven or eight games left, but it goes a long way Thursday night.’’

Of course, in order for that game to be as big as it is right now, the Rangers couldn’t afford to slip up against the 23-43-7 Blue Jackets, who are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and were tied with San Jose for the fewest points in the league (53) before the Sharks’ game late Tuesday against Winnipeg.

 The Rangers got off to a fast start, jumping out to a 3-0 lead by the time the game was eight minutes old on goals by Filip Chytil, Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane. For Chytil and Kane, it was the second goal for each player in the last two games. And for Tarasenko and Kane, the two trade deadline imports, it was the first time they have scored in the same game since Kane was acquired from Chicago Feb. 28.

A power play goal by Kirill Marchenko and a goal by Johnny Gaudreau with 28.1 seconds left in the period had Columbus within 3-2 by the end of the first period, but Artemi Panarin’s power play goal at 17:36 of the second, and third-period goals by Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck (into an empty net) put the game out of reach.

Goaltender Igor Shesterkin turned in another fine performance, making 28 saves, though if there was one nitpick of the Rangers’ performance, it was that Shesterkin was needed to make too many difficult saves.

“It's good to get out to that good start, but that first period, I thought, was a sort of an East-West game,’’ Gallant said. “I mean ‘Shesty’ had to make seven or eight great saves. Honestly, it could have been a 5-4 period very easily. So we get off to the great start, and I thought we settled down the second or third and played a better overall game. But the first period was sort of a shootout.’’

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