Jacob Trouba #8 of the Rangers celebrates his second period goal...

Jacob Trouba #8 of the Rangers celebrates his second period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Mar. 18, 2023 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Nine games to go in the regular season, and the Rangers will be preparing for the playoffs, which became a reality Monday night after the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres lost.

So the question facing the Rangers is how to approach these last nine games, beginning with Tuesday’s matchup with the -Eastern Conference doormat Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden.

“Keep building the way we play,’’ captain Jacob Trouba said. “Just keep making our game better and better and get more comfortable with each other and play the right way.’’

Trouba said the team needs to improve its play in the first periods of games, after having poor starts in both games on last week’s road trip to Carolina and Florida before rallying to win.

“There's always ways you can improve your game, but we've had a pretty good run the last 10 [8-1-1],’’ he continued. “We've had some games we didn't like, but found a way to win. The goalies have been playing really well, both of them [and] I think things are starting to come together. We’ve just got to keep building and trying to peak at the right time.’’

Coach Gerard Gallant acknowledged for the players it can be hard to stay focused when they don’t have much to fight for anymore.

“I was a player a long time ago, and when you're in these situations, you try and get ready to play for 60 minutes, [but] sometimes it doesn't happen,’’ he said. “Like the last couple of first periods [against Carolina and Florida]. And then we played the game and we ended up winning both hockey games, but it's tough when you start like that. I mean, you’ve got to get mentally ready to play as much as you can.’’

While the playoffs are assured, matchups and home-ice advantage remain to be determined. The Rangers are currently in third place in the Metropolitan Division, and if the season ended today, would face the second-place Devils in the first round of the playoffs. The Devils, though, are chasing the first-place Hurricanes in the division race, so if that happens, then the Rangers would play Carolina in the first round instead.  

There’s also the outside possibility that if the Rangers win enough games over the last two-and-a-half weeks of the season, they could even move up in the standings, and capture home-ice advantage in the first round.

The main thing, according to Patrick Kane, will be to stay healthy and keep playing better and better, rather than checking out mentally for the rest of the regular season.

“I've seen it before, where you kind of maybe limp into the playoffs a little bit, and then you're in the playoffs and you try to turn it on,’’ Kane said. “And It's tough just to turn it on. So yeah, keep playing the same way we have been, and take that right into the playoffs.’’

More Rangers

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months