Along with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers and the Blue Jackets are jockeying for the three spots below the first-place Washington Capitals.
But it will be the division’s fourth-place team that ends up with what figures to be the best playoff draw of the three runners-up, starting the postseason against the winner of a weak Atlantic Division.
So there was some solace in a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jackets, who recaptured third place in the division and put the Rangers in fourth, a position that would match them up against Atlantic-leading Montreal — a team with 8 fewer points than the Rangers with six weeks left in the season.
The Rangers have been nearly unbeatable this month, and they had not lost in regulation at home since the last day of January, when those same Blue Jackets roared to a 6-0 lead en route to a 6-4 win, chasing Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist along the way.
In this fifth and final regular-season contest between the teams, Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson each scored twice, and Josh Anderson scored once to give Columbus a convincing victory, if not an altogether strategically worthwhile one.
“We know these guys always play well here, so we knew it would be a battle,” said Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky, a former Ranger who was sent to Columbus in a July 2012 trade that brought in Rick Nash.
Rangers center Derek Stepan did not mince words after this latest home loss to the Blue Jackets, who scored 21 goals against the Rangers in winning three of their five meetings this season.