The Rangers’ locker room after Thursday night’s loss to the Islanders was an uncomfortable place to be.
There was a numbness in the room, the kind that comes from a team-wide realization that the quest is over, that whatever slim hopes the Rangers had for a playoff berth likely vanished when Josh Bailey redirected Cal Clutterbuck’s centering pass with 1:26 remaining to give the Islanders a shocking 4-3 win.
It was the Islanders’ only shot on goal in the third period. The Blueshirts had 17.
The Rangers had played with desperation from the opening faceoff to the final horn, but with their fifth straight loss, they fell to 11 points out of a wild-card playoff spot.
Though 39 games remain in the season, beginning with Saturday’s matinee rematch with the Islanders at Barclays Center, and 19 games will be played before the Feb. 25 trade deadline, the time for desperation seems past. It has been replaced by the need for professionalism.
Defenseman Marc Staal, an alternate captain, was asked if it will be difficult to keep working hard with the playoffs no longer a realistic goal.
“Well, if we keep doing the right things over and over again, we’ll start getting some wins, I think,’’ he said. “And that’s the way you’ve got to look at it. Every day we come to the rink with a good work ethic and attitude to try to turn this thing around and start winning some more games consistently. That’s all you can do in a situation like this.’’
Staal was asked if he looks at the standings or prefers to avoid it.
“I know the standings,’’ he said. “We’ve got a big chunk of points ahead of us — I mean, there’s still a ton of hockey left. For us, right now, it’s get back [Saturday] and try to get better and try to get a win.’’
The Rangers opted to not practice Friday. Coach David Quinn said his players clearly were tired after their trip to Colorado, Arizona and Las Vegas, during which they lost three games by an aggregate score of 15-3.
Their plane home from Las Vegas arrived at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, and though they didn’t practice that day, Quinn said his players clearly lacked energy in the first two periods against the Islanders at the Garden.
Quinn’s task now will be to keep finding ways to motivate his players to play games that have little meaning the rest of the way. His first message was to not let the circumstances of Thursday night carry over to Saturday.
“We’ve got to work hard at the mental aspect of this and move past it,’’ he said after Thursday’s game. “We cannot let this get in the way of our performance on Saturday. We can’t let them win two games tonight.’’