Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant looks on during a game...

Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant looks on during a game against the Islanders at UBS Arena on Nov. 24, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

After the Rangers earned an impressive 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers, the team with the most points in the NHL, on Tuesday night, coach Gerard Gallant was asked if his team was where he expected it to be at the All-Star break.

"Definitely,’’ Gallant said with a wink and a mischievous smile.

"I knew we had a good team,’’ the first-year Rangers coach said. "I don’t know what level we’re going to get to. But after tonight, you feel pretty good about your team.’’

The Rangers, emerging from a four-year rebuild, arrived at the break with a 30-13-4 record and a share of first place in the Metropolitan Division. With 35 games left, making the playoffs for the first time since 2017 seems like a near lock. With 64 points, they are 18 points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings, who are third in the wild-card standings and the first team out of the playoffs at this point.

"We’re in a good place right now, but we’ve got 35 big games when we come back,’’ Gallant said. "And it’s all about trying to win games and get two points and get higher in the standings.’’

After a first half in which everything seemed to go right for them, the Rangers limped into the break, missing four regulars: defensemen Adam Fox (upper-body injury) and Patrik Nemeth (personal issues) and forwards Kaapo Kakko (upper-body injury) and Filip Chytil (lower-body injury).

But the win over Florida, which came after three straight uninspiring performances, was a statement win for the Rangers. And when they return on Feb. 15 against the Boston Bruins at the Garden, they should be healthy and well-rested for the stretch run.

The post-break schedule should favor them, too. They have six games remaining in February, to be played in the final 14 days of the month, and they will play their final 35 games in a not-too-taxing 75 days, with only three sets of back-to-backs remaining.

Also, 12 of the final 35 games are against teams in the bottom 10 of the NHL standings (three each against the Islanders and Devils, two each against Philadelphia and Ottawa, and one each against Montreal and Buffalo). The Rangers are 17-1 this season against the bottom 10 teams in the league.

Which is not to say the rest of the season will be a cakewalk. There still are some challenges. They have not yet faced Pittsburgh, which was 10-8-5 in late November before a 10-game winning streak turned its season around. The Penguins are 17-3-3 in their last 23 games and trail the Rangers by two points in the Metropolitan standings. The Rangers will play them four times, beginning Feb. 26 in Pittsburgh.

The Rangers also have three games left with the Carolina Hurricanes, who are tied with them for first in the division (and have played five fewer games) and who beat them, 6-3, in the teams’ first meeting Jan. 21 in Raleigh. And there still is one long road trip remaining, when the Blueshirts go to Winnipeg, Minnesota, St. Louis and Dallas in the second week of March.

The real question for Gallant’s Rangers is this: Are they more than just a playoff team? Should they actually be considered one of the NHL’s top teams?

It seems a little premature to put them in that category, given that they have gone four straight seasons without making the playoffs. It seems as if there should be one or two more steps to take before they get there.

But if general manager Chris Drury, who has salary-cap space to work with and a cupboard full of prospects to offer in a deal, can bring in some reinforcements at the March 21 trade deadline, who knows?

Notes & quotes: The Rangers assigned defenseman Zac Jones to AHL Hartford and recalled defenseman Jarred Tinordi from Hartford. On Wednesday, they assigned forwards Morgan Barron and Jonny Brodzinski, defenseman Nils Lundkvist and goalie Adam Huska to Hartford.

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