Back in January, Rangers head coach David Quinn talked about how an organization that is going through a rebuild should have something to hang its hat on by the end of the season.
In the Rangers’ case, that is a playoff berth. Quinn declared that qualifying for the postseason would be a definitive goal for the team, as well as a barometer for its success during the 2020-21 season.
“If this club, in this division, makes the playoffs, that will be an accomplishment,” he said roughly two weeks before opening night. “And just going through the entire battle of getting to the playoffs will be something really advantageous, especially for our young players.”
Three months later, the Blueshirts are on the outside looking in at the four playoff spots in the East Division. And with a mere five games left in the regular season following Thursday’s matchup with the Islanders at the Garden, the team is banging on the door trying to get in.
Trailing the Bruins, currently the fourth seed with two games in hand, by four points and the Islanders, in third with one game in hand, by five heading into Thursday’s game, the Rangers could be satisfied with how they’ve held their own in a stacked division. They could be happy with their 7-3-0 record over the past 10 games, which has brought them within striking distance of two of the most experienced teams in the division.
But it appears the Rangers won’t be content unless they qualify for the postseason. Regardless of how many times Quinn has praised the development of the young players, harped on how difficult playing in the East is, or acknowledged how the team has managed to block out several distracting events that have plagued its season, it all won’t matter unless the Rangers continue playing past May 8.
Asked Thursday morning if he feels this season, even without a playoff berth, is a success so far, Quinn bluntly said no.
“Success is going to be determined at the end of the season, the totality of the season,” he said. “We have a goal and we want to reach it.”
When the Rangers’ brass discussed what it was hoping for before the season began, it seemed like making the playoffs was considered an attainable goal. What was not mentioned, not even once, was winning the Stanley Cup.
The organization understands where it’s at. There were no grand promises made, just some reasonable expectations.
Because the next stage of this rebuild, which began in 2018, is for the Rangers to gain playoff experience. Even if the team isn’t able to achieve its goal this season, the Rangers have endured a true playoff race the last month and a half, which has taught the young players invaluable lessons about this time of year.
“We’ve got a lot of young players that are learning how to play playoff-type hockey games, similar to what we went through last year at the end of the year,” Quinn said. “Obviously, the circumstances are different without crowds, but still I think these players are understanding that the hockey changes a little bit this time of year. Every team has to adapt a little bit and you get away with less this time of year.
“We’re going to continue to learn, but we don’t want to learn and lose. We want to win and that’s really what this is all about.”