GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Rangers have 23 games and 6 ½ weeks remaining before the games that really matter.
The good news for them and their fans is that barring a cataclysm, their status as a playoff qualifier will not be in question during that stretch.
The bad news is that, well, they have 23 games and 6 ½ weeks remaining, starting with four in six days this week.
To borrow a phrase traditionally associated with summer and baseball, these are the dog days. And just as is the case in mid-August, one’s focus can tend to wander.
For the Rangers, the short-term fix was a 7-4 victory over the Stars on Saturday that avoided their first three-game losing streak since early November. But the grind continues against the Ducks on Tuesday.
"I think it’s easy to see your spot in the standings and get a little relaxed," defenseman Adam Fox, who grew up in Jericho, said after practice on Monday. "But we want to be playing our best hockey going into the playoffs. I don’t think we want to just be going there and be struggling.
"Obviously, it is a long season, but there’s not too many games left that we’re playing. I think once you get close toward the end, you get a second wind a little bit, it seems. You have some energy. So I think it’s exciting. I think we’re happy with where we are but also want to be playing some good hockey around this time."
The Rangers are 37-17-5 and in third place in the Metropolitan Division. They are 16 points ahead of the Blue Jackets, the team that currently is the first team out of the playoffs.
Coach Gerard Gallant said being a playoff near-lock "changes nothing for me" in his approach.
"Standing doesn’t change the way we’re going to look at things," he said. "We just keep playing our game and try to get a win [Tuesday] night."
What happened in Dallas on Saturday might bode well for the playoffs, when even short losing streaks mean elimination.
After back-to-back duds against the Wild and Blues and then an early 2-0 deficit against the Stars, the Rangers awoke for four first-period goals of their own.
Dryden Hunt later called it a "must-win," not in the standings, but for the Rangers’ emotional well-being. On Monday, his coach and teammates backed up that sentiment.
Gallant acknowledged that a three-game losing streak would have meant feeling pressure to get things right this week. Now the Rangers can just get back to work, and back to the grind, with a fresh start.
Filip Chytil said that is the sort of thing that separates not-quite-good-enough teams such as the Rangers of the previous two seasons with the Rangers of 2021-22. "This year we are more consistent," he said.
The trick is maintaining that now and remembering it in May.
Notes & quotes: Barclay Goodrow skipped practice for what the Rangers called a maintenance day . . . Gallant said neither Kaapo Kakko nor Kevin Rooney will return from injury this week.