So the Rangers won again on Saturday, three straight and seven of the past eight in the aftermath of this 3-2 victory over the Sharks at the Garden that kept the team within four points of a playoff berth with 21 games to go in the season.
It’s all so seductive, isn’t it, with the trade deadline set for 3 p.m. on Monday — not only the 7-1 record over the past two weeks, but the 14-6 mark since Igor Shesterkin made his NHL debut on Jan. 7.
The playoff dream just doesn’t seem all that impossible now, does it?
Even with this sudden era of good feeling washing over the franchise, ownership and management must keep their eye on the big prize and not on intermediate baubles such as an unexpected postseason berth.
The deadline still has to be about next year and the year after that and the two or three after that rather than about the next six weeks or the past two months. This is no time for the discipline displayed over the past 24 months by the front office to dissipate in excited optimism.
Which is to say that too much is on the line for the Blueshirts to keep Chris Kreider if the team is unable to reach agreement with the winger on a contract extension before the deadline. As we reported Friday, the club’s preference is to keep No. 20 rather than deal the pending free agent as a rental for a package of futures.
Sources from around the league seem to believe that Kreider won’t be traded. Still, though, neither does it necessarily seem as if the Rangers are closer on an extension with Kreider than they were 48 hours ago, when the gulf was significant. So it is unclear whether the parties will be able to bridge the divide in the next day.
If they cannot reach an agreement — and this is a no-fault scenario, with both sides having alternatives — then as painful as it might be in the short run, general manager Jeff Gorton and president John Davidson would have no other choice than to move the BC Kid.
Going 7-1 or 14-6 cannot make people silly. The future as defined by management cannot be this April, even if it appears as if the current personnel is well suited to take up the battle against the Islanders, Blue Jackets, Candy Canes, Puddy Tats and Maple Leafs for one of the East’s two wild cards. This is not a time for short-circuiting the process, no matter how tempting.
This is the time to trust in the program and work diligently to get Kreider under a contract extension so that the Blueshirts can present a formidable top-six in front of an improving defense and a lockdown tandem in nets fronted by Shesterkin, 9-1 in 10 NHL starts after Saturday’s 44-save performance in which his team was outshot 22-3 in the first period.
“Poise between the pipes,” Kreider said. “When you’ve got that, you can win a lot of games.”
The Rangers and their coaching staff have all but made the deadline irrelevant. That stands in stark contrast to each of the past two years, when a pall settled over the club weeks in advance of anticipated sell-offs. A sell-off was anticipated this year, too, but you wouldn’t know it from watching this group.
“We’ve known we’ve had this in us. It’s just come down to things we can control like work ethic and attention to detail,” Mika Zibanejad told The Post. “Winning solves everything. We’re only thinking about the next shift, the next period, the next game.
“We come to the rink every day focused on how to get better. We are not consumed by trade talk. Everyone is aware of it, but we don’t control that. What we control is our play. Whatever happens, happens.
“If there are trades, then we will deal with that and we’ll go out and play.”
Except it probably won’t be that simple if Kreider is ripped away, or if Jesper Fast, who scored twice against the Sharks and is also a pending free agent, is dealt for a second- or third-rounder. Actually, it won’t be easy at all for a Rangers team whose next match is Tuesday at the Coliseum against the Islanders.
Maybe 14-6 since Jan. 7 changes the landscape for Gorton and Davidson, but the Rangers should not be seduced the way the front office in 2015-16 by a mid-winter run that led to the regrettable rental acquisition of Eric Staal. They cannot keep Kreider for the next two months unless they are keeping him for the next six or seven years. This cannot be kicked down the road.
Sign or trade.
Remember the Tavares.