Tanner Pearson celebrates after scoring the game-winner to sink the Rangers in overtime at the Garden.
If the Rangers’ tide has risen because of Henrik Lundqvist, Antti Raanta was the anti-Lundqvist on Friday night, and it had less to do with the backup goalie’s performance than with his startlingly low demeanor following a 5-4 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the Garden.
Raanta (29 saves) not only revealed that his confidence was completely shattered by losing a lead on a fluke goal in the final minute of regulation, he said his confidence had been nearly absent when the puck dropped as a result of making just his second start since mid-December and not having won a game since Nov. 15.
“I was really nervous the first couple periods, couldn’t play my own game,” said Raanta, who is winless in his last six decisions (0-4-2) after winning his first four of the season. “I was moving too much so I wasn’t set when the shot was coming, and it was more about just going down and hopefully it hits you.”
Raanta said he “started to feel the puck better” in the third period, when he stopped 10 of 11 shots and Kevin Hayes snapped a five-game power play drought at 15:14 for a 4-3 lead. But Kings captain Anze Kopitar’s fluky game-tying goal with 29.7 seconds left in regulation to complete a hat trick sent Raanta reeling, even though it had double-deflected off Rangers defensemen Marc Staal and Kevin Klein.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Raanta said after the Rangers (31-18-6, 68 points) saw a four-game winning streak snapped. “It’s been too long already for the win, November or something, and the last four minutes felt like forever. The clock didn’t move at all and the puck just came to the net, and our guys are so great blocking shots but it hits a guy in the chest and bounces in the net. It’s pretty funny how (much) bad luck I have, and I wanted to win so bad, so that bounce was pretty tough to take.”
Also not surprisingly, the discouraged Raanta left too much room short side on Tanner Pearson’s game-winning snap shot at 3:10 of OT after the Rangers’ Dan Boyle gave Pearson all kinds of time and space.
“It was again one of those straight shots,” said Raanta, who was beaten by Kopitar on the first shot of the game. “I don’t know what’s wrong right now, but I just feel like I’m there but the reaction isn’t.
Derek Stepan reacts after Mats Zuccarello scores past Kings goalie Peter Budaj in the seconed period.
“It’s hard to explain it, but you just try to make the save, but when you don’t have the feeling you need in your head and your body, it’s pretty hard.”
Vigneault presciently in the pregame had boiled down his team’s improved results of late to one man: Lundqvist.
“I think Hank in the last three weeks to a month here has found his rhythm, found his game, and if you look at our stats it’s Hank, and it’s team,” Vigneault said, moving his hands up and down to demonstrate the connection. “That’s the way it is.”
The question, though, is whether starting Lundqvist 22 of 23 games prior to Wednesday and letting Raanta sit so long was prudent. A concussion on Dec. 17 in Minnesota sidelined Raanta through the Christmas break, but since then Lundqvist (27-14-4, 2.32 GAA, .923 save percentage) has dominated the workload.
Lundqvist has benefitted, making 45 starts to Raanta’s 10, but if the Rangers intend to limit Lundqvist’s starts to around 60 to keep him fresh for the playoffs, how many more starts can Raanta realistically make in the team’s final 27 games if he’s this rattled?
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Does this put the Blueshirts on the market for a backup goaltender before the trade deadline?
Anze Kopitarand Milan Lucic hug after a second-period goal.
“It’s tough,” as Raanta said, because Hayes (goal, assist), Mats Zuccarello (goal, assist) and Derek Stepan (goal, assist) led a comeback from an early 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 lead 9:21 into the second period.
Kopitar tied it going into the third off a J.T. Miller turnover for the Kings (33-18-3, 69 points), but Keith Yandle and Zuccarello made terrific plays to set up Hayes.
The goal snapped an 0-for-15 power play drought through the Blueshirts’ last five games.
It healed a 1-for-28 slump through their last 10 matches and an incredible 2-for-50 tumble in their last 18.
They appeared on their way to a fifth straight win, with captain Ryan McDonagh (concussion) out a third straight game and Rick Nash (left leg bone bruise) missing his eighth in a row, until it all crumbled.
“We just have to take the positives from it and don’t let it deflate us,” Staal said.
Easy for him to say.
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