The fight to make the playoffs was valiant, and the experience for the Rangers’ young players has been priceless.
But the fight is all but over for the Rangers, who lost to the Islanders, 3-0, on Saturday night in what likely was the Blueshirts’ final game at Nassau Coliseum. The victory not only clinched a playoff spot for the Isles but left the Rangers on the brink of elimination.
The next point gained by the Boston Bruins or lost by the Rangers will end the Blueshirts’ playoff hopes.
That could happen Monday if the Rangers don’t beat the Capitals at Madison Square Garden or the Devils don’t beat the Bruins in regulation in Newark.
The Rangers (26-20-6) have four games left in the season.
Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (28 saves) posted his third straight shutout, his fourth shutout against the Rangers this season and his career-high seventh of the season.
Anthony Beauvillier had two goals and Mathew Barzal scored the other as the Islanders humbled the Rangers for the second time in 48 hours. The Isles beat them, 4-0, on Thursday at the Garden, and Beauvillier and Barzal scored in that one, too.
The Rangers were shut out for the sixth time this season. It was the first time they’ve been shut out in consecutive games since January 2015.
Coach David Quinn said that despite the similar scores, he didn’t think Saturday’s game was as bad for his team as Thursday’s was.
"Unlike the other night, I thought we were much more competitive,’’ Quinn said. "And not that we’re just here to be competitive, we’re here to win hockey games, and we weren’t able to capitalize on some of the chances we had.’’
Maybe so, but the bottom line was the same. And now, with four games left in the season, the time has officially come to let go of 2020-21 and focus on next season and beyond.
Some of that already has been going on, of course. Rookie defenseman Zac Jones, who signed with the Rangers less than a week after winning the NCAA hockey championship with UMass last month, has been playing. On Saturday, forward Morgan Barron and defenseman Tarmo Reunanan, called up from the Rangers’ Hartford affiliate, were in the lineup, with Barron making his NHL debut.
Barron and Reunanen, who made his NHL debut in March when he came up to play after Adam Fox was knocked out of the lineup because of COVID protocols, entered the lineup with veterans Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba and 23-year-olds Ryan Lindgren and Brett Howden unavailable because of injuries.
Barron became the sixth player to make his NHL debut for the Rangers this season, joining 2018 first-round picks Vitali Kravtsov and K’Andre Miller, 2020 No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, Jones and Reunanen.
Barron played 11:56 in his debut and did not look out of place. He didn’t have a shot on goal but was credited with one hit and won a faceoff. Reunanen played 17:35 and had a shot on goal, a hit and two blocked shots. He was not on ice for a goal against.
So the Rangers got a head start on their future in 2020-21 with all of the young guys who got some good experience. But when management looks back on this season, the lasting impression of the young Rangers will be of them getting schooled by the Islanders in their last three meetings, including a 6-1 loss April 20.
The Rangers hope they’ve learned something from their archrivals.
"It’s a good lesson for us, I think, any time we play these games,’’ former Islander Ryan Strome said. "It shows what it takes . . . I don’t think we need to play like these guys, [but] I think there’s a lot of good attributes they have that we can learn from.’’