SAN JOSE, Calif. — As celebrations go, Tuesday’s was about as subdued as can be.
No music in the Rangers locker room at SAP Center. No laughter. Players shed equipment quickly and flung duffel bags onto carts in the hallway. Henrik Lundqvist was seated alone, staring at the floor.
The Rangers had just lost their second straight game and finished a West Coast swing 1-1-1. Yet, thanks to a three-goal burst in just over five minutes starting in the final seconds of the second period, they earned a point and secured a playoff spot in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Sharks.
It seemed almost like a consolation prize.
“We know our game isn’t where it needs to be. But [the rally] was a good sign for us,” said captain Ryan McDonagh. “This was a big road trip. We had one mission, to clinch . . . and we’re hoping to accomplish a lot more.”
True enough. But they’ll need to regroup. They still need to lock in the first wild-card slot in the East, which currently would push them into a first-round matchup with the Atlantic Division leaders, the Montreal Canadiens.
But in the big picture, the Blueshirts, 1-2-2 in the last five, are struggling to find their rhythm when other playoff-bound teams are surging. It is not the ideal way to enter the tournament.
With five games left in the regular season, starting with the Penguins at home Friday, the defense is uneven, Lundqvist is unhappy with his play after missing eight games with a strained hip muscle, and together, allowed 11 goals (one-empty netter) against the Ducks and Sharks.
What they might benefit from is a wake-up call, the type that J.T. Miller, who had been demoted to the fourth line after playing poorly, heard and answered, by scoring twice.
“If I wouldn’t [come into the game motivated], there’s something wrong with me,” said Miller. “I wasn’t playing the right way for a little while there. Little things slip into your game, and you get into bad habits. I was fortunate to have one go in and get some confidence.”
Miller could very well be moved up at practice Thursday, after Alain Vigneault watches video, as part of the regrouping. The defense also will be under the microscope: The Sharks had a red carpet to the crease most of the evening.
“I want to take time to analyze this game. In the third period, I went down to three lines,” he said. “There’s no doubt that J.T. was one of the few players that had a good game. I’m not putting him on the fourth line to motivate him, he just wasn’t making the plays. Tonight he went out and he made the plays. When you make the plays, you play more.”