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Rangers must take care of business against down-and-out Devils

Igor Shesterkin #31 and Artemi Panarin #10 of

Igor Shesterkin #31 and Artemi Panarin #10 of the Rangers celebrate their 4-0 shutout against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on April 15, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

The NHL continues to award two points for each victory over the Devils, and for as long as that remains the case, it is incumbent upon the Rangers to collect those points.

As those two teams are in the middle of four games in six days, and the Rangers are in a difficult struggle for a playoff berth, this is no time to assume anything.

The Rangers are doing the best they can to forget that the Devils are awful — they have lost eight of nine, with their only win against the hapless Sabres — and keep their eyes on the postseason prize.

Before practice on Friday, coach David Quinn said: "These games against New Jersey and Buffalo, for everybody in our division, is really going to go a long way toward determining who’s going to make the playoffs.

"If you take anybody lightly or take anybody for granted, you’re going to be on the wrong side of it. We’ve seen that here in the last week or so. So we’re certainly expecting their best [Saturday at Madison Square Garden]."

It is true that these are professionals, so anything can happen. For instance, on Thursday the last-place Sabres beat the first-place Capitals, 5-2.

But it also is true that the Rangers (21-16-6) have begun the first two games of their four-game stretch against the Devils (14-22-6) by outscoring them 7-0 behind a pair of shutouts by Igor Shesterkin, the first of his NHL career.

The young goaltender did not have much to do while making 16 saves in a 4-0 victory on Thursday, and Quinn plans to send him out again on Saturday.

Quinn’s players insist they will continue to take the Devils seriously.

"We’re trying to get back in the playoff hunt and catch Boston right now," Ryan Lindgren said of the fourth-place Bruins, who are six points ahead of the Rangers with a game in hand. "So we shouldn’t have a tough time at all getting up for these games.

"The Devils are young, they have a lot of speed and have a lot of guys on their team right now that are hungry and trying to prove themselves, so we can’t take them lightly."

Said Mika Zibanejad: "The opponent doesn’t really matter. I think we’ve been playing some good hockey against them. They play hard. They’re a fast team."

Quinn shook up his lines late in Thursday’s victory, and Artemi Panarin afterward called the team’s performance "not ideal" and too sloppy for the many big games ahead.

This will not be easy for the Rangers, even more so because their last game against the Devils this season is Sunday, with only 11 more regular-season games to go after that.

Notes & quotes: Panarin and Brendan Smith missed practice for "maintenance," according to Quinn . . . Lindgren on scoring his first goal in 98 games Thursday: "I was definitely getting some chances, but to finally see one go in the back of the net definitely felt good." . . . Defenseman Zac Jones said he signed with the Rangers this week for the challenge and to learn from veterans. Another reason was winning the NCAA championship with the University of Massachusetts last weekend. It is not clear when he will dress for a game or if it will be this season.

New York Sports