With their postseason hopes wobbling in the balance, this was one the Rangers absolutely could not let slip out of their hands. And although it wasn’t the most authoritative win in franchise history, they took care of business, beating the woeful Panthers, 6-1, at the Garden.

“No disrespect to them, but they’re not playing for the same thing we are,” Brad Richards said from underneath the Broadway Hat, having notched a goal and an assist. “Now that we’re here, the main thing we ask for is that it’s in our hands, and we do what we need to do. It will be on us if we do something less than that, but we want to be in there and moving up.”

The win kept the 22-17-4 Rangers tied in points with the Jets — 4-3 winners in overtime last night at home against the Hurricanes — for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, but ahead of them by virtue of a game in hand. With both the Islanders and Senators winning as well, seventh place is still three points away as the Rangers head to Buffalo to take on the surging Sabres tonight.

“All the other teams are winning,” said coach John Tortorella, “so we have to keep on finding people to contribute.”

It wasn’t too tough to find contributors last night, as Tortorella got two goals apiece from Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard, along with the one from Richards and one from Rick Nash.

“I don’t give a hoot who contributes, as long as they contribute,” Tortorella said. “I don’t give a hoot if they’re new or old, veteran or rookie, as long as we get contributions from everybody, because that’s the only way we’re going to find a way.”