NEW YORK – The best thing for the Rangers’ performance on the ice this season may just be the time they’re spending off it.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has made sure to schedule ample days off in the Rangers’ busy schedule as the team hopes to make its second consecutive run deep into June. After playing 107 games last year between the regular season and playoffs, they’ll have to play a similar amount if they want to raise their first Stanley Cup since 1994, forcing them to play well over 200 games in a 20-month span.

“Playing a lot of important hockey games makes you a better player,” said Rangers forward Carl Hagelin. “You have one month in the summer when you can relax, get well-rested, and during the year it’s important to be smart about what you do; get the right fuel, get the right amount of sleep.”

Since 1996-97, only one team that lost the Stanley Cup Final has advanced past the second round of the playoffs the following year: the 2009 Penguins, who won the Cup.

“I certainly think rest is very important,” said defenseman Dan Boyle, who, while playing for the Sharks last year, was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs after a total of 89 regular season and playoff games. “Sometimes rest is better than anything else. I think that has helped us have the record that we have today, and hopefully it continues to pay benefits down the stretch.”

“Rest is a very important part of being able to perform and being able to perform on a consistent basis,” Vigneault said. “When you combine rest with the right dosage of practice time, that’s what we try to do.”

The schedule down the stretch has been prohibitive towards practice time. The collective bargaining agreement requires teams to give players at least four days off a month. The Rangers have had five back-to-back sets since the beginning of March, and they generally give their players a day off after a back-to-back set.

“It’s definitely physically demanding and tough, but once you get to the playoffs that excitement, that’s what you play for,” said Boyle. “The adrenalin, everything takes over. There’s definitely no doubt playing that many games will wear people down, but I think guys overcome that. The excitement of winning, or having a chance to win, overtakes that.”

“I think with the new CBA, we have four days off a month; that really helps,” said Rangers forward Derick Brassard, who’s missed only five games over the last two seasons. “No morning skate keeps the energy high, I think it can really show this time of the year. It’s not like we’re overplaying guys 25 minutes up front and 30 minutes on the back end, we’re a four-line team and we roll that. We’re just pretty excited to get back in the playoffs.”

Since early in the season Vigneault has stopped holding mandatory morning skates, except on mornings when the team was off the previous day. The change has helped keep players’ legs fresh during the 183-day, 82-game grind of a regular season.

“I think the coaching staff has managed really well our days off, practices, and no morning skates,” Brassard said. “At this time of the year, you find your energy, you find your emotion in the games. I don’t think fatigue could be one of the factors.”

“The more you win, the more days off you get. It’s a bit of a reward. It’s definitely going to help [moving forward],” said Hagelin. “Overall, if you look at the season, if you get a few extra days off it’s going to help you down the stretch.”

Rangers Fall to Desperate Sens in Home Finale

The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers (52-22-7), who clinched the league’s top record Tuesday at New Jersey, were presented with the trophy during a pre-game ceremony before falling to the Senators 3-0 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night in the team’s regular-season home finale.

Ottawa (42-26-13) can clinch a spot in the playoffs with a point against the Flyers on Saturday.

“I can sit here and say that we gotta meet their desperation level, but I don’t know if that’s a realistic, honest thing to say,” Boyle said before the game. “They’re a desperate hockey team, and you can’t fake that.”

The Sens didn’t play like a desperate team during a lethargic first period, but scored two goals in 64 seconds late in the second period and cruised from there to the win.

“This group’s pretty competitive,” said Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. “You want to obviously play [well] out there regardless of what the points mean as far as the standings.”

The Rangers played without defenseman Marc Staal and forwards Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello. Vigneault bristled when it was suggested those players were being rested during a meaningless game, insisting they were nursing minor injuries. All three players are officially listed as day-to-day, and there is little concern they won’t be ready for the playoffs.

NOTES:

Kevin Klein skated on his own before the team’s morning skate, but will not play in the Rangers’ regular-season finale in Washington. Vigneault said he expects Klein will be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs, which is expected to be on Thursday at the Garden.

The Rangers are one point away from tying their franchise record of 112 points, set in 1993-94, and can set the mark in their regular-season finale at Washington on Saturday afternoon.

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Seth has been covering the Rangers for Inside Hockey since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @RothmanHockey

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