The Rangers slip three past Marc-Andre Fleury, but the Penguins goalie largely made things difficult for the Blueshirts Sunday at the Garden.
Henrik Lundqvist didn’t toss his net in anger this time facing the Penguins, but he had plenty of reason to.
Almost every Rangers player intentionally remained in the locker room to address the media after Sunday afternoon’s frustrating 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh at the Garden, the Blueshirts’ second defeat in as many days after coughing up a late lead in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime disappointment at Detroit.
The Rangers (39-23-7, 85 points) are a team headlined by veterans, leaders and hard workers that know how to believe in themselves and how to win, which is why they are sounding alarms bells again about this season’s worrisome tendency of finding ways to lose – a weakness persisting too close to the postseason.
“We were a little bit too loose,” said power forward Rick Nash, party to a 0-1-1 record in his first two games back from a 20-game injury absence in which the Blueshirts rolled to 13-6-1. “For me, I’ve been watching a lot. Now that I’m back into I’m trying to worry about getting my hands going, my game going. But when I was watching, we were so sound defensively. Everything was tight, back to the house, back to the box. We can’t allow five goals at home.”
Referees gave Lundqvist a stoppage 1:10 into Sunday’s third period after ex-Ranger Carl Hagelin’s slap shot broke his mask, so there was no reason for the King to protest as he had March 3 in Pittsburgh – when he shoved his net to the ice in a video clip tailor-made for Twitter.
The team’s overall poise wasn’t acceptable, though. Overlooking details hasn’t been good enough in the first two of seven straight games against playoff teams. It won’t suffice in California starting Wednesday night in Anaheim, and it certainly won’t fly in April.
“It’s not a good feeling to lose two in two days here,” said Henrik Lundqvist (28 saves), who could not match Saturday’s 40-save mastery in the Motor City in his second game back from a three-game injury absence. “You at least want to get a point out of this one.”
Kevin Klein sends Patric Hornqvist over the boards in the first period.
Vigneault continued to show his lack of patience for passivity and ineffectiveness. One week after benching J.T. Miller for the final 24:35 of a 6-4 home loss to the Islanders, Vigenault benched Dominic Moore for Sunday’s final 27:13, sat Kevin Hayes for the last 24:05 and removed Moore from the 27th-ranked penalty kill after a Patric Hornqvist first-period power play goal for the first time since Moore rejoined the franchise that drafted him in 2013.
Hayes, on the fourth line in place of Tanner Glass (upper-body injury), did not play a single second more after standing flat-footed and unaware prior to Conor Sheary (two goals) scoring on a breakaway goal at 15:55 of the second period for a 3-2 Pittsburgh lead after two. Dan Boyle was minus-four.
The desperate Penguins (36-24-8, 80 points), in wild-card position just like the Red Wings, won on a fluky Matt Cullen bank shot off Marc Staal past Henrik Lundqvist from behind the net at 11:09 of the third. But Derick Brassard’s trip of Cullen for a delayed penalty just before Cullen’s centering attempt, in a tie game, was an example of Ranger lapses.
“Look at last year,” Nash said of the Rangers’ Presidents’ Trophy-winning season. “We were having a season to remember, and it was one-goal games. (League-leading) Washington just set the record for most one-goal games (with 10 straight). That’s what good teams do. They get ahead and they shut it down. And that’s what we’ve got to get back to.”
Kris Letang mixes it up with Rick Nash.
Captain Ryan McDonagh had tied it at three apiece with a wrap-around at 5:04 of the third off Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller assists. Similarly, Brassard returned after missing one match with the flu to wire home a game-tying power play goal at 8:59 of the second period, answering Sheary’s first at 7:30 off a Mats Zuccarello giveaway. Chris Kreider’s dunk at 18:06 of the first from Derek Stepan (two assits) and Kevin Klein was a response to the Hornqvist goal 11:56 in.
Sidney Crosby (empty-net goal, assist), however, was powerful in offsetting the absence of Evgeni Malkin (upper-body injury, 6-to-8 weeks). Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (24 saves), who had called Lundqvist’s March 3 net shove “baby stuff,” stopped 18 of 19 Rangers first-period shots then faced just two in the second period.