After a weekend of feasting on the delectable Winged Wheel, the Rangers bit into the Stars and cracked a tooth.
That happy little landing the Rangers had coming out of the break, sweeping a home-and-home with last-place Detroit, turned into a hard thud when a sturdy Stars team rolled into the Garden and rolled out with a 5-3 win Monday night.
After Henrik Lundqvist turned back the clock on Saturday night in Motown and collected his first shutout since 2017, he lasted just 40 minutes in this one, allowing four goals on 15 shots before Alex Georgiev replaced him. Lundqvist made some great saves, and allowed some tough goals, and so it goes for the Blueshirts — the inconsistencies sending their postseason hopes fading while the stark reality of the Feb. 24 trade deadline comes rushing forward.
“I don’t want to stand here and look for excuses or turning points or anything like that,” Mika Zibanejad said. “We did it to ourselves again, and it’s unfortunate.”
Well, coach David Quinn knew exactly when things turned for his Rangers (25-22-4), who scored two of their three power-play goals in the first period — while also giving up two power-play goals, both to Joe Pavelski — but then gave up a long bomb to Stephen Johns at 7:52 of the second period that gave Dallas (30-18-4) a 3-2 lead and turned the tide.
“It looked like we really got deflated after we gave up that third goal,” said Quinn, who also lost a challenge thinking a puck went out of play on the Stars first goal, giving them another power play that they converted on just 16 seconds later to take a 2-1 lead.
“It’s one goal, you’re still in the game. And then we got sloppy,” Quinn said. “It was really a tale of two games for us. I really liked what we were doing up to that third goal, and then we really got away from all the things we had been doing, and need to do, if we’re going to have a chance.”
The chance, of course, would be that long shot at the playoffs. But the bad things didn’t creep back into their game, they charged back.
“Holding on to the puck too long, cheating, not being physical enough — you name it,” Quinn said. “We weren’t good in many areas after they got that third goal.”
These young Rangers have shown glimpses of being mentally resilient, but, more often than not, there are big lapses in focus. Sometimes it hurts them, sometimes it doesn’t. So despite the Stars only getting 21 shots on net, they made them count.
After Johns scored, Blake Comeau continued his career-long assault on Lundqvist, beating him with a top-corner shot for his 14th career goal against the netminder, tied for the fourth-most of any player in Lundqvist’s career. Corey Perry was able to beat Georgiev to make it 5-2 early in the third, and essentially end the game.
“They’ve got men, they’re hard, they’ve got structure, they don’t beat themselves,” Quinn said of the Stars. “For the last 30 minutes, we just weren’t up for the challenge.”
The challenge in front of the Rangers now is rather monumental, and they know it. Complicating things a bit is the three-goalie situation, along with all the uncertainty as they approach the trade deadline. Quinn and his players want to focus on trying to win games, but for the youngest team in the league, they can get a little sideways at times.
The three power-play goals were nice, the first on a sharp-angle shot from Pavel Buchnevich — benched in the third — that goalie Anton Khudobin surely would want back. And then Brett Howden made a nice play to tie it, 2-2, at 15:41 of the first. But after Brendan Lemieux added the third of the night on the man-advantage in mop-up time, one stat just jumped off the page:
The Rangers have just three even-strength goals in the past four games to go along with seven on the power play. That’s a hard way to win, and hard way to keep the postseason dream alive.
“It just wasn’t enough,” Zibanejad said.
For more on the Rangers, listen to the latest episode of the “Up In The Blue Seats” podcast: