GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers are set to begin a three-game road trip that could determine if they will be in the hunt for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the final three weeks of the regular season.
"We've been playing that playoff-type hockey for a long time now because we've seen the opportunity," said center Mika Zibanejad, named NHL First Star of the Week on Monday after scoring seven goals in three games last week. "It's still there."
The Rangers are three points behind the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference entering their game against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET; ESPN+, FS-SW, MSG 2, NHL.TV). They play at the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday and at the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.
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The road may just be the right place for them.
They won a Rangers-record eight straight games away from home from Feb. 1-27, a streak that ended in a 5-2 loss at the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 28. Forward Chris Kreider fractured his foot blocking a shot in that game and is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.
They are fifth in the League in road points percentage (.594), going 18-12-2 in 32 games.
"We've had a pretty good run here, probably a lot further along than people thought we were going to be, and we've just got to continue to grow," center Ryan Strome said. "This is a great learning curve for me and a lot of other guys to play in these meaningful games and try to make the most of them.
"Sometimes from what I've seen in this League it's not necessarily grabbing a spot, it's just not falling out of one, staying in that hunt as long as you can."
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The Rangers played their way into the race for a postseason spot when they went 12-3-0 from Jan. 31-Feb. 27. They climbed nine points in the League standings and moved within two of the second wild card from the East.
Despite going 1-4-0 in the past five games, including a 6-4 loss against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, their confidence hasn't waned.
"I don't think we should question ourselves in any type of way," Zibanejad said. "We just have to reset."
That was the idea behind their video session and practice Monday, coach David Quinn said. It was about engaging in drills focused on defending, because that's where the Rangers have regressed the most in the past five games.
Quinn said he showed the Rangers statistics prior to their video session that from Jan. 7-Feb. 27 they were second in the League in goals per game (3.55) and allowed the fifth-fewest goals per game (2.50).
Not surprisingly, they were 16-6-0.
"That wasn't a small sample, you're talking about almost two months," Quinn said. "We [tied for the most] wins in the League, we had the best power play (31.1 percent). But it was all stemming from playing good defense."
They've allowed 24 goals in the past five games, a League-high 4.80 per game since Feb. 28.
Quinn said part of the problem has been questionable goaltending in those five games featuring a combined .852 save percentage from Alexandar Georgiev (.874 in three games), Henrik Lundqvist (.839 in two games) and Igor Shesterkin (.783 in one game). But that doesn't excuse the play in front of and behind the net, he added.
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"We just have to be a little bit more thorough defensively," Quinn said. "It can't be 53 minutes, it can't be 58 minutes. It's got to be shift in and shift out.
"We had a long stretch there where we had great focus. Here we are, 14 games to go, staring at an opportunity in front of us and we've got to put ourselves in the best position to take advantage of it."