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Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist happy to be fighting for playoff spot

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist blocks a shot by

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist blocks a shot by the Blues' Alexander Steen during the second period of a game Monday in St. Louis. Credit: AP/Bill Boyce

There are certainly some fans out there that believe the Rangers ought not to be trying so hard to win every night. Losing regularly, and improving the team’s chances of winning this summer’s draft lottery, makes the most sense to them.

But not to Henrik Lundqvist.

Lundqvist seemed to be the only happy guy in the Rangers locker room Monday night after they closed out 2018 with a gritty 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues and swept their two-game Midwest trip to close the calendar year with a 17-14-7 record.

Most of Lundqvist’s teammates seemed a little sheepish about the way the team played, but all Lundqvist cared about was getting that win and staying in the hunt for a playoff spot this season. The Rangers are six points out of a playoff spot.

“It’s important in the next two or three weeks we stay focused and do whatever we can to stay in the race,’’ Lundqvist said.

Lundqvist certainly did what he could against St. Louis, making 39 saves as the Rangers were outshot 40-23. Coach David Quinn’s concern was that not enough of Lundqvist’s teammates did all they could do. The coach complained that his team didn’t seem to want to skate, close down on people or hit anybody.

Quinn pointed to a sequence where the Rangers were hemmed into their own zone for an extended shift — more than two minutes — and two players ended up breaking their sticks. Ryan Strome, who had broken his stick,  picked up the other one not realizing it was broken and was penalized for playing with it.

The Rangers killed the penalty, but Quinn was annoyed with the entire sequence.

“I don’t know if (Strome) knew the stick was broken or not, but, again, that play was a microcosm of why we had the last 35 minutes the way we did,’’ Quinn said.

New pact for Hayes?

With the flip of the calendar, the Rangers can now begin negotiating with the representative for Kevin Hayes on a contract extension. Hayes, 26, was a restricted free agent last summer and signed a one-year, $5.175 million deal, meaning the team could not talk with him about an extension until Jan. 1.

Hayes, whose career-long point scoring streak ended Monday at nine games, is the Rangers’ second-leading scorer with 33 points, on 10 goals and 23 assists. He has been, arguably, the Rangers’ best forward this season and is on pace to score 71 points, which would be by far his career high.

 But as the Rangers navigate their rebuilding process, it isn’t clear whether GM Jeff Gorton would want to sign Hayes to a long term deal or trade him before the Feb. 25 deadline to acquire more young players and/or draft picks.

New York Sports