The Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals, 4-1, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Sunday, April 21, 2024, at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Newsday/William Perlman

Outside of a relatively cold January, the Rangers sliced through their schedule en route to the most wins and points in franchise history and the Presidents’ Trophy. The long skate toward the trophy they really want, the one with the big cup at the top, began Sunday at the Garden.

It will take 16 wins to create a very happy 30-year anniversary of the last time the Rangers claimed the Stanley Cup.

One down, 15 to go.

The Rangers’ fourth line stepped forward in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference first-round series against Washington, delivering two goals and three assists to help fuel a 4-1 win.

Jimmy Vesey had a goal and an assist, rookie Matt Rempe scored his first playoff goal in his first playoff game and Barclay Goodrow assisted on both scores.

Afterward, the three fourth-liners skated out one by one as the three stars of the game — Vesey No. 1, Goodrow No. 2 and Rempe No. 3.

“I think throughout the playoffs, you need all four lines,” Goodrow said. “If we can chip in a goal or two, obviously that’s huge for the team. So it’s a good way to start. We’ve got to keep it going.”

Igor Shesterkin made 20 saves for the Rangers.

Game 2 is Tuesday night at the Garden.

“Everybody has to play much better,” said Alex Ovechkin, who didn’t have a shot on goal after scoring 31 times in the regular season. “Forget about this one and move forward.”

Last season, the Rangers took the first two games of the opening round in New Jersey but lost the series in seven.

But winning this Game 1 sure was better than the alternative.

“Obviously, it’s very important,” Artemi Panarin, who had a goal, said through an interpreter. “It really helps us move along. But we got to remember this series has four games in it [to win].”

The Rangers’ new fan favorite helped them win this one.

Rempe, who arrived from AHL Hartford on Feb. 16, delivered the first goal of the game 4 minutes, 17 seconds into the second period. It lit a spark among the 18,006 fans on hand.

“That was a big goal to put energy in the building,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said. “Maybe because it was him, too, it put a little more extra juice in the building.”

Goodrow, operating behind the net, fed Vesey, who sent a right-side feed across the goalmouth to Rempe. The 6-7 right wing deposited it past goalie Charlie Lindgren.

“It was a dream come true,” Rempe said.

It didn’t take long for the Rangers to strike again, only 33 seconds. After a Washington turnover, Vincent Trocheck set up Panarin in the right circle, and his wrist shot beat Lindgren for a 2-0 lead.

Then the fourth line struck again at 6:23. Goodrow won a faceoff in the right circle, getting the puck back to Vesey. His shot deflected past Lindgren — three goals in a span of 2:06.

“Just momentum,” Lindgren said. “For five or 10 minutes, they maybe carried the play a little bit and got some looks.”

Just 1:08 after Vesey’s goal, the Capitals cut it to 3-1. Tom Wilson sent a pass in front from the right circle and Martin Fehervary deflected it past Shesterkin.

But with 3:43 left in the game, Mika Zibanejad sprung Chris Kreider for a breakaway goal, putting an exclamation point on this victory. That extended Kreider’s Rangers record to 41 career postseason goals.

The Rangers outshot the Capitals 31-21.

“We’ve got to do a way better job offensively,” Washington coach Spencer Carbery said. “It’s no secret, we struggled all year.”

They also saw the Rangers kill all four of their power plays.

“There’s talented players on that team,” said Laviolette, who coached that team the previous three seasons. “That power play has been effective for 10, 12 years in the NHL. They’ve been a really good group.

“But I think our penalty kill has been on point as well, though. Not just today in the playoffs, but down the stretch, I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

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