Errant Three Minutes Results in Disappointing Rangers Loss

In the second game of their four-game road trip, the Broadway Blueshirts traveled to the Xcel Energy Center for a tilt against the Minnesota Wild. The Rangers were looking to piece together their first three-game winning streak since mid-December, and solidify themselves as playoff contenders, but ultimately failed. With tonight’s loss to the Wild, a group that has only lost four home games in regulation all season, the Rangers dropped to four points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Hopefully tonight’s matchup helped Jeff Gorton clarify his plans for the looming trade deadline, as they may have been slightly altered with the Rangers recent stint of success.

Just as they did in Winnipeg, the Rangers got off to another dreadful start in tonight’s contest. Striking first for Minnesota was Eric Staal, who has rejuvenated his career since his brief and disappointing stint on Broadway. After Nick Holden failed to advance the puck through the neutral zone, Staal took it the other way on a 2-on-1, snapping a low shot past Henrik Lundqvist’s blocker. Following the Wild’s early score just 3:09 after puck-drop, they were able to convert again, as Zach Parise added to the lead just 1:25 seconds later, giving the Rangers an early 2-o deficit. The costly turnovers continued to plague the Blueshirts, with Rick Nash providing the Wild with an uncharacteristically bad turnover, leading to a lucky bounce and a gift of a goal for former Devils captain Zach Parise. To further the blow, Marcus Foligno found the back of the net only 1:43 later. Foligno was set up beautifully by Daniel Winnik for a flawless one-time slap-shot that flew by Lundqvist’s trapper. Henrik couldn’t have been faulted on any of these tallies, as they all came from in close. This was another devastating start for the Blueshirts, as they trailed by a score of 3-0, just over 6 minutes into the game. Nothing new for this Rangers team.

As they have all season, the Rangers would respond with a goal of their own. Minnesota forward Nino Niederreiter was sent off for delay of game penalty after clearing a puck over the glass, and the Rangers were sent on the man-advantage. The Blueshirts produced a good looking power-play on Sunday, even without key cogs in Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Kreider, and Pavel Buchnevich all sidelined with injuries. Dissimilar to the result in Winnipeg, the Rangers were able to convert on the power-play, as rookie defenseman John Gilmour registered his first NHL point and goal, as he slapped one past Devan Dubnyk. Getting the primary assist on Gilmour’s tally, was young defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who continues to excel as a power-play-quarterback since his most recent promotion from the Hartford Wolf Pack. Also notching a point was Rangers center, Kevin Hayes.

The Blueshirts began the second period still trailing by two goals; however, they looked much more lively. The recent trend we’ve seen from the Rangers has been an egregious first period, which is then followed by a much improved and inspiring second frame. Tonight was no different. The Blueshirts brought us a much more entertaining second, where they showed their speed, generating many chances on Dubnyk, and forcing him to make a number of big saves. After a fairly uneventful first 1o minutes which was dominated by the goaltenders, there was a flurry of penalties just around the halfway mark of the second period, resulting in another two Ranger power-plays. The Blueshirts were unsuccessful on the first one, but continued to do a good job possessing the puck and creating scoring opportunities. Their efforts paid off on the latter power-play, when Kevin Hayes rushed into the Minnesota zone and wristed one low-glove-side past Devan Dubnyk. This was definitely one that the Wild net-minder will want back, as he seemed surprised by the shot from the rare-shooter, in Kevin Hayes, who he silenced the Xcel Energy Center crowd. This play started from the Rangers defensive-zone, where Neal Pionk had a beautiful shot-block, and sent it ahead to Michael Grabner, who then dished it over to Hayes who was able to find the back of the net. Pionk, a Minnesota-native playing in his first game back in his hometown, notched his first NHL point as well, with a secondary assist on Hayes’ goal. In the late stages of the period, there was not much action other than Cody McLeod’s four hits, as he was flying around hitting everything. The Rangers more than doubled Minnesota’s 8 shots, putting up 19 0f their own, in what was a very encouraging period.

Tonight’s vitally important third period was more reminiscent of the first period than the second. The Wild didn’t commit any more penalties, which is where the bulk of the Rangers offense was coming from, causing a lack of scoring chances. Without the power-play, the Rangers offense was relatively non-existent, as they posted only 4 third period shots on goal. Lundqvist made a number of crucial saves to keep the Rangers in this one, but he wouldn’t get any third period support. J.T. Miller had one quality scoring chance with the empty-net, but Dubnyk was able to fight it off with a stunning pad-save, to give Minnesota a 3-2 victory. Alain Vigneault’s team deserves some credit, as they continue to display their ‘never say die’ mentality, by putting forth a valiant effort tonight, barring their errant three-minute stretch early in the first period. The Blueshirts will get a chance for redemption, as they face-off against the Wild of February, 23rd at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers will be back in action on Thursday, when they will take on the New York Islanders, for what should be a fierce matchup with playoff implications at the Barclays Center (7:00 PM, MSG).

 

Brian Paget is on Twitter @BrianPaget17

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