Rangers center Mika Zibanejad faces off against St. Louis Blues...

Rangers center Mika Zibanejad faces off against St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly in the first period at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

In a playoff race, the only thing that matters is wins and points. This is not the time to take solace from playing well in a losing effort, not when the opportunity to gain ground in the hunt for a postseason berth is there for the taking.

Still, while the Rangers’ 3-1 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues at the Garden Tuesday hurt, they could only be disappointed after it was over. Not angry.

“It is all about winning and losing, but you also have to take into consideration that you give yourself a chance to win,’’ coach David Quinn said. “And that was a big-boy hockey game right there. There wasn’t a lot of room out there; there was a playoff feel to it. And an unfortunate bounce ends up in the back of our net, which was the difference in the game.

“A game of that magnitude, where there was such little room, and not many scoring chances, the margin of error is so small. And we were on the wrong end of it.’’

Brayden Schenn’s goal broke a 1-1 tie at 9:56 of the third period and ultimately doomed the Rangers to a third straight loss. This after a stretch in which they’d won 9 of 10. It was their second straight loss on the four-game homestand, which continues Thursday with a matchup against the Washington Capitals.

Schenn’s wraparound goal was the difference in what had been a taut, well-played game by both teams. Schenn picked up the puck behind the net and came around the right-wing goal post. He slid the puck  across the crease and it deflected in off goaltender Alexandar Georgiev’s right skate for his 25th goal of the season, It’s a goal that Georgiev would like to have back.

“I didn’t really expect for him to shoot, Georgiev said of the goal. “The puck came off my skate.

New York Rangers players celebrate a power-play goal by center...

New York Rangers players celebrate a power-play goal by center Mika Zibanejad against the St. Louis Blues in the first period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

“I just have to make that save next time.’’

Jaden Schwartz ended things with an empty net goal with 5.9 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Rangers (35-27-4) remain four points behind idle Columbus, but now with just one game in hand on the Blue Jackets.

Georgiev was back in goal for the fourth time in five games, after sitting out on Sunday’s loss to the Flyers. He has been more than solid in net since Igor Shesterkin was sidelined with a broken rib suffered in a car accident Feb. 23, and had won three games in a row before losing to the Flyers in Philadelphia on Friday. Quinn went back to him after a rusty Henrik Lundqvist took the loss on Sunday in his first game in nearly a month.

New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad, center, is congratulated by...

New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad, center, is congratulated by center Ryan Strome after he scores a power-play goal as St. Louis Blues defenseman Marco Scandella skates by in the first period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The loss to the Flyers Sunday occurred in the Rangers’ third game in three-and-a-half days (“Or four games in five-and-a-half days — not that we’re counting,’’ Quinn quipped), but the coach said the team was refreshed after a short, hard practice on Monday.

They certainly didn’t look tired as they took a 1-0 lead in the first period on a power-play goal by the red-hot Mika Zibanejad, who scored his 33rd of the season off a pass from Ryan Strome at 12:26.

But the Blues got it back on a power-play goal of their own by Colton Parayko at 2:35 of the second. Robert Thomas’ centering pass got deflected into the air, and Zibanejad tried to sweep it clear, but he only managed to put the puck right on the stick of Parayko, who was unchecked and swept in a shot for his ninth goal of the season.

Notes & quotes: The game was the 6,500th in Rangers history. They played their first game on Nov. 15, 1926, beating the Montreal Maroons, 1-0. The Chicago Blackhawks also played in their 6,500th game Tuesday night.

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