GREENBURGH, N.Y. — A sense of disappointment seemed to be in the air in the Rangers’ locker room after practice Friday. When they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night, they’ll take on the team with the NHL’s best record but won’t have the opportunity to be part of history.
The Blue Jackets lost for the first time in five weeks and had their winning streak snapped at 16 games Thursday night when they fell to the Capitals, 5-0, on the road. The loss left them one victory short of tying the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins’ NHL record for longest winning streak. If the Blue Jackets (coached by former Rangers coach John Tortorella) had beaten Washington, they would have returned home with a chance to break the record against the Rangers on Saturday night.
All of the Rangers were careful to say that this remains a big game, matching the team with the best record in the league (Columbus is 27-6-4 for 58 points) against the team with the third-best record (the Rangers are 27-13-1 for 55), but they couldn’t deny that frankly, it’s just not special.
“Obviously, there would have been a lot of hype going into the game, and now there will be more of a — you know, us coming to Columbus game,’’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said with a laugh.
Even coach Alain Vigneault said he had looked forward to the challenge of trying to stop the Blue Jackets from breaking the record. “I did, to tell you the truth,’’ Vigneault said. “I did think about it a little bit, but it wasn’t meant to be.’’
So now the Rangers will go about trying to take two points against a division opponent in a midseason game. And they’ll have to try to do it without forward Rick Nash, who is close to returning from a groin strain but is not ready yet.
Nash said it made little sense to force things by putting him into the last game before the Rangers have five days off as part of their “bye week.’’
“The doctor wants me to wait till there’s no pain,’’ he said. “I still feel it a bit out there, so we figured . . . these five days off will help.’’
Nash said he is “very optimistic’’ that he’ll be able to play when the Rangers return from their break next Friday at home against Toronto.
“That’s the plan,’’ he said.
Notes & quotes: Forward Pavel Buchnevich, who has been practicing in a non-contact jersey, practiced fully and was assigned to AHL Hartford. Vigneault said he will play Saturday night for the Wolf Pack . . . Vigneault said Mika Zibanejad, who is coming back from a broken leg, might return shortly after the break.