Realistically, making the playoffs is a long, long shot for the Rangers. As of right now, though, they believe they still have a chance to do so, and the plan is to play desperate hockey and give themselves the best chance they can.
Games like their 4-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night at the Garden are absolute must-haves. The Red Wings are last in the NHL at 12-36-4, and the Rangers will play them again Saturday in Detroit.
“Right now, regardless of who we’re playing, these points are points we have to have,’’ coach David Quinn said at the morning skate.
The Rangers (24-21-4) gained two points on Carolina, which lost at home to Vegas, and one point on Philadelphia, which lost in overtime to Pittsburgh. With 52 points, the Rangers are nine points out of the second wild-card spot.
Second-period goals by Pavel Buchnevich, Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin got the Rangers going after Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard held them at bay in the first period, making 15 saves to keep the game scoreless after 20 minutes.
“It’s very easy, after a first period like that, to get frustrated,’’ said Mika Zibanejad, who set up Buchnevich’s goal, had the second assist on Kreider’s and scored a power-play goal that made it 4-0 early in the third period. “And I thought we did a good job continuing what we did in the first and got rewarded.’’
Buchnevich’s goal, at 9:23 of the second period, was a thing of beauty. Kreider sent a diagonal pass from left to right wing for Zibanejad, who drove hard to the bottom of the circle and sent a pass across for Buchnevich, who directed it behind an out-of-position Howard before losing his edge and crashing into the end boards.
That goal seemed to open the floodgates for the Rangers.
“Yeah, when you’re pressing that hard and creating those chances and you don’t get rewarded, it’s obviously nice when you get that first one,’’ said Zibanejad, whose goal was his 200th point as a Ranger. “And ‘relax’ is maybe the wrong word, but I think you feel a little bit more confident in that situation, and it was noticeable.’’
Kreider made it 2-0 at 11:56 when he deflected in Adam Fox’s blue-line wrist shot for his 18th goal. Panarin made it 3-0 when he scored a magnificent goal in the final minute of the period. He drove up left wing, dropped the puck behind him, then flipped it forward and backhanded a shot over Howard’s right shoulder and into the inside corner at 19:18 for his 27th goal.
Zibanejad’s power-play goal at 5:02 of the third period made it 4-0 before Detroit got goals from Robby Fabbri at 5:59 and Valtteri Filppula at 10:59.
Goaltender Igor Shesterkin, starting his fourth NHL game, made 23 saves to earn the victory. He nearly scored a goal of his own, firing a shot from in front of his crease toward an empty Detroit net in the closing moments. The shot went wide.
Afterward, Shesterkin smiled when asked if he’ll try to score the next time he’s in the same situation. He said he scored once before, in junior hockey in Russia.
“I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get one,’’ Quinn said. “He does have that ability. He’s got poise. And he’s got the ability, physically, to get that puck down the ice.’’
Notes & quotes: Henrik Lundqvist is scheduled to start in goal Saturday . . . G Alexandar Georgiev and LW Micheal Haley were the scratches Friday.