Rangers are close to making the playoff spot after five seasons

Five years after their last postseason qualifier, the Rangers will once again be among the teams looking to win the Stanley Cup.

It could happen as early as Saturday night at the Garden if Rangers can take out visiting Senators. If not on Saturday, coach Gerard Gallant’s surprise team will inevitably punch their ticket back into the 16-team tournament.

“Every year when you play you aim for the playoffs, you want to win. Definitely a better feeling than ever,” said reserve captain Mika Zibanejad, one of the longest-serving rangers. “It was worth the wait and it was fun to be here, even if there were a few tough years or whatever you want to call them. It’s fun to be part of the solution and it’s obviously a better feeling to be here now.”

A lot has changed since Rangers were last in that position. It took a lot to get it right this season, from the development of key young players, to luck in the draft lottery, to the bold moves of putting Chris Drury on as general manager and gallant behind the bench. It has gotten to this point, with a tenacious but still young group that far exceeded the low expectations they went into the season with.

“I read a lot of things where we’d be back in October and we’re not there,” Gallant said with a lopsided smile. “We got off to a good start, we had a good first 72 games. I’m happy where we are but you can never be satisfied because things change in a minute.”

Artemi Panarin (left) will line up with Mika Zibanejad for their next game against the Predators.
Artemi Panarin (left) will line up with Mika Zibanejad for their next game against the Predators.
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On Friday, Gallant made sure he credited those who had come before him, pointing out that he felt that team’s arrow was pointing up ahead of his arrival. Drury’s predecessors, Jeff Gorton and John Davidson, rebuilt an aging roster. They brought in Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Lindgren and Ryan Strome, among others. Last year’s team, coached by David Quinn, missed the playoffs by just four points.

Drury clearly found the right coach in 58-year-old Gallant and he has taken significant steps to strengthen this group, adding significant depth up front and down the blue line at close.

“When I came to this team, I knew it [were] a few small holes to take care of but they were on the way up. Years before they had some good young players and they needed to take another step and we talked about that [before the season]’ Galant said. “They were on the way up and took another step again this year, as they probably will again next year. They are young children, we are still a young team. You have taken a step and it is going in the right direction.”

Big celebrations are not planned. Gallant laughed when asked if he would drink champagne once that elusive playoff spot was settled. He won’t coach the next 10 games any differently than he did the first 72, and his players won’t play any differently either. First place remains achievable. Rangers were two points behind the Hurricanes on Friday and are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Reaching the postseason was just the first goal.

“My expectation was to make the playoffs,” Gallant said. “I will be happy but hopefully I will celebrate at the end of June. You want to party there.” Rangers are close to making the playoff spot after five seasons


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