There’s really no reason for the Rangers to play through the types of aches, pains and strains they might tolerate if a playoff spot were on the line. So as his team started its second-to-last week of the season Monday night, returning home to Madison Square Garden against the Pittsburgh Penguins, coach David Quinn dressed a lineup that was missing a few core pieces.
Gritty checking forward Jesper Fast was out and is finished for the season with an upper-body injury that has been bothering him for about six weeks, Quinn said. Forward Chris Kreider and defenseman Marc Staal missed the game with lower-body injuries. Both are day-to-day, Quinn said.
Without the trio — alternate captains all — the Rangers took an early two-goal lead but then allowed five straight Penguins goals and lost, 5-2. Teddy Blueger scored two goals for Pittsburgh, one of them shorthanded.
Fast fought the decision to shut him down, Quinn said.
The 27-year-old Swede, whom Quinn called “invaluable’’ and “as coachable a human being as you’ll ever have on your roster,’’ desperately wanted to play Monday. However, his injury, which had prevented him from practicing since the beginning of February, had become more difficult for the Rangers to manage, Quinn said.
Given the fact that the Rangers (29-33-13) really have nothing to play for, it didn’t make sense for Fast to keep playing, Quinn said.
“It got a little bit worse, and our situation became, obviously, changed, as time has gone on,’’ he said.
Alexandar Georgiev, who made 44 saves in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto, started his second straight game. Quinn said the 23-year-old, who has been splitting time with Henrik Lundqvist since early February, could start more than two in a row.
“Yes. There’s a chance for that,’’ he said. “Hank’s had a heck of a year overall, so I want to get him back in there, for sure. But Georgie’s played great.’’
The Rangers took a 2-0 lead on goals by Brendan Lemieux at 8:25 of the first period and Vinni Lettieri on a power play at 15:15. It was his first goal of the season.
But Nick Bjugstad got one back for Pittsburgh at 15:41 and Justin Shultz’s power-play goal tied it at 1:01 of the second period with Brady Skjei serving a high-sticking penalty.
The Penguins added two more goals before the period was over, Matt Cullen at 7:17 and Blueger’s shorthanded effort at 13:12.
The Penguins (42-24-11), who have 95 points, are tied for second in the Metropolitan Division with the Islanders, although the Isles have a game in hand. Both teams are one point behind the Capitals.