There’s no time right now for the Rangers to dwell on any result, good or bad. The games don’t stop coming, and in a playoff race, the most important game always is the next one. So moments after Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues at the Garden, the only thing the Rangers could do was spin things ahead to Thursday’s game at home against the Washington Capitals.
This, now, becomes the biggest game of the year for the Blueshirts.
“These guys know – I don’t even have to say it,’’ coach David Quinn said after Tuesday’s game. “We’ve got to be ready to play Washington.’’
“It obviously hurts more, the position that we’re in, this time of year, to lose a game like that,’’ defenseman and alternate captain Marc Staal said Tuesday. “We played well. But it’s going to happen. We’ve just got to get by it and keep moving on here.
“That’s all you can do. Step back and get ready for Washington.’’
The Rangers suddenly have lost three in a row after having won nine of 10 to pull themselves into the thick of the playoff hunt. The loss to St. Louis cost them an opportunity to gain ground in the race, but it wasn’t fatal. At 35-27-4 with 74 points, the Rangers are four points out of a playoff spot with 16 games remaining.
With four games this week, Quinn opted to give the team the day off on Wednesday, so there was no opportunity to ask whether he will go back to Alexandar Georgiev in net Thursday. Georgiev gave up a bad goal with 10:04 left in regulation Tuesday that ended up being the game-winner for the Blues, but the 24-year-old Russian (16-14-1, 2.98 goals-against average, .912 save percentage) still seems a better option in a must-have game than Henrik Lundqvist (10-12-3, 3.19, .904). Igor Shesterkin still is out with a broken rib but is making progress, according to Quinn, and is skating and taking shots. He’s still most likely out until, at best, next week, however.
Washington, which plays Wednesday night against the streaking Philadelphia Flyers, leads the Metropolitan Division, but they’ve only been OK lately. They were 3-1 going into Wednesday’s game, but that came after a 2-6-1 stretch. Overall, they're 7-8-1 since the All-Star break, going into Wednesday.
Alexander Ovechkin got his 700th goal Feb. 22 against the Devils. He has three goals in the four games since and is up to 45 for the season, approaching 50 for what would be the ninth time in his 15-year career.
For the Rangers, none of it matters. Whoever they play, they have to beat. That’s the nature of playoff races.
“At this time of the season, where we're at, we've got to continue to focus on our game, the things we have to do in order to give ourselves a chance,’’ Quinn said before the game against the Blues. “We've got to be dialed in about our game and what we need to do, and have faith in each other and have faith in the way we've been playing.’’