Rangers’ playoff hopes rely on desperation versus rival Islanders

The Rangers used words like disappointing and demoralizing after a 4-0 home loss to the Islanders on Thursday night severely damaged whatever remained of their playoff hopes.

They could have inched within one point of the Islanders with back-to-back victories, including Saturday’s follow-up at the Coliseum, but they instead now trail their clearly better Long Island neighbors by seven points.

The Blueshirts also trail the Bruins, who have played two fewer games, by six points with just five to play, albeit with their final two in Boston next week.

What is that famous hockey quote about believing in miracles?

“Sometimes these losses are tough, but you’ve got to flush it, come out and practice hard, and get yourself back and ready,” defenseman Brendan Smith said after practice Friday. “Everybody is professional here, and we’re in the business of winning, so we’re going to go out there [Saturday] and give our best shot to win.”

Still, despite the Rangers’ supposed desperation to remain in the playoff hunt, they allowed the more battle-tested Islanders to be the aggressors on the road with their typically tight and physical play under head coach Barry Trotz.

The loss dropped the Blueshirts to 2-4-1 against the Islanders this season, including three shutouts by goalie Semyon Varlamov.

“I feel like it’s like this every time we play them. … It just wasn’t good enough,” Mika Zibanejad said Thursday night. “They don’t give you much. They play hard, they make it hard for us and they frustrate us, and we just have to be more patient and understand it’s going to be a grind against these guys.

“They play a really good team game, and give them credit for that, but we just have to be better.”

Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders makes the second period save as Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers looks on
Mika Zibanejad and the Rangers are running low on chances.
Getty Images

Zibanejad’s assessment that the Rangers “were just too slow with the puck and we allowed them to get on the forecheck,” also was a point of emphasis Friday by head coach David Quinn.

“We talked about that today. They’re a team that did a really good job [Thursday] night of getting above us and staying inside,” Quinn said. “We can be a little bit thickheaded of trying to make plays when plays aren’t there.

“And really, that’s kind of what evolved [Thursday] night after we got down. I didn’t think we established any kind of forecheck consistently. … I thought our puck management put us in a difficult position. Our strengths are what they are, but sometimes they can be our downfall. I thought they were [Thursday] night.”

The Rangers (26-19-6) suddenly also are dealing with a fracturing roster late in the season. Fourth-line forward Brett Howden suffered a broken foot in Thursday’s loss, ending his year.

Chris Kreider, who missed the game with a lower-body injury, and defenseman Ryan Lindgren, who was knocked out of the loss in a collision with Cal Clutterbuck, didn’t skate Friday. Both are considered day-to-day.

Quinn didn’t disclose whether those two players — or defenseman Jacob Trouba (presumed concussion) — would dress Saturday at the Coliseum. But if it’s any indication, he did say “there’s a good chance” both of Friday’s call-ups from AHL Hartford — forward Morgan Barron and defenseman Tarmo Reunanen — would be in the lineup.

Regardless, the Rangers’ desperation needs to be dialed up, and their play needs to improve in all facets beginning with their eighth and final matchup of the regular season against the Islanders.

“Any loss at this point of the season can be demoralizing, but we still have some games left and we’re just going to keep playing,” defenseman Adam Fox said Thursday night. “Obviously how things shake out, it’s a tough situation that we put ourselves in, but we’re just going to keep playing hard and try to get wins.”

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