“These are the hardest games to lose,” said Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello after his team dropped a 3-2 decision Tuesday to the NHL’s worst club, the Florida Panthers.
If the Rangers had won — and to their credit, they outshot the Panthers, 38-16 — they’d have clinched a playoff spot.
Tonight in Carolina, they get another chance to clinch against a non-playoff team, the Hurricanes.
A win and the Rangers qualify.
A regulation Winnipeg loss to Montreal would also see the Blueshirts into the postseason, but the Rangers also have playoff positioning to play for. There’s still an outside chance they could finish as the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference; however, No. 6, 7, or 8 is more likely.
In the unlikely event the Rangers don’t qualify for the playoffs, well, let’s re-visit that scenario if it’s still a possibility after tonight. But suffice to say the future of head coach John Tortorella would be among the first topics up for discussion.
Bottom line: the Rangers have played well down the stretch. They’re 8-3-1 in April and should make for a tough opponent in the first round of the playoffs.