At this point, all the Rangers want to do is play out their final few games, get some quality experience for their kids and maybe experiment with a few new line combinations, just to get some ideas going into next season.
But when you play against the Washington Capitals, you always have to deal with the problem that is Tom Wilson.
Wilson, who has been suspended five times in his NHL career — including a seven-game suspension this season for boarding Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo — brutally attacked three Rangers forwards while the Capitals were killing a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty in the second period Monday.
He was assessed a double-minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct by the referees, but he was able to remain in the game, which the Capitals won, 6-3.
Artemi Panarin, one of the three players Wilson attacked, wasn’t so lucky. Panarin, who was punched multiple times, left the game after the second period and did not return. Coach David Quinn said after the game that Panarin is OK — and very lucky to have escaped serious injury.
"We all saw it, and there are lines that can’t be crossed in this game, and to me, it’s just zero respect for the game in general,’’ Quinn said of Wilson’s antics. "You get one of the star players in this league now who could have got seriously, seriously hurt in that incident. It’s just — you saw what happened and, you know, it happens time and time again with him and it’s just totally unnecessary.’’
"I figure you should have some more respect for the game and for the players,’’ Mika Zibanejad said. "I don’t honestly know where to start. It’s just horrible. Zero respect. And I don’t know, I don’t know why I’m surprised. Yeah, just horrible.’’
The incident overshadowed the fact that even before they lost, the Rangers had been officially eliminated from playoff contention when the Bruins beat the Devils in Newark, 3-0.
Their elimination was hardly a surprise. Seeing Wilson jump on top of Pavel Buchnevich and punch him while Buchnevich was lying on the ice after falling in a goal-mouth scrum? That was a shock.
When Ryan Strome jumped in to get Wilson off Buchnevich, Wilson started punching Strome, who fell to the ice. When Panarin went in to pull Wilson off Strome, Wilson turned his attention to Panarin, hardly the toughest guy in the league.
The Rangers were leading 3-2 at the time on two goals by Zibanejad and one by Kaapo Kakko, and they had a brief five-on-three power play at 7:40 of the second period after all of the penalties were sorted out.
Buchnevich and Panarin somehow got roughing minors, as did Washington’s Brenden Dillon. With Buchnevich and Panarin in the penalty box, the Rangers failed to score on the five-on-three or the subsequent five-on-four, and Garnet Hathaway’s goal off a scramble in front with 1:30 left in the period tied the score at 3-3.
Goals by Washington’s Daniel Sprong at 4:37 of the third and Nicklas Backstrom at 11:41 broke the tie and doomed the Rangers to their third straight loss. Adding insult to injury, Wilson scored the empty-net goal that made it 6-3.
The Capitals pulled into a tie for first in the East Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost to the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Rangers and Capitals will play again Wednesday, and unless Wilson is suspended by the league before then, the Blueshirts are going to have to have a plan for keeping their players safe.
Quinn was asked if the league should do something about Wilson.
"The league’s been dealing with him and this for a while,’’ he said. "That’s an answer for somebody else.’’