Whether the Rangers can create positive traction over the final 38 games is to be determined.
But for one night, the talk that emanated from all corners of their dressing room was of character and how they possess that attribute despite dropping a 4-3 shootout loss to Columbus Monday.
“I think the boys did a good job of coming together and battling for that point,” Dan Girardi said. “We never gave up.”
By earning the loser’s point, the Rangers (21-20-3) — who have lost two of their last three — now have 45 on the season, and are tied with Carolina and Ottawa. The Hurricanes are in ninth as they have four fewer regulation losses than the Rangers, despite having three fewer wins and six more overtime losses.
“We’re on the outside looking in,” Girardi said.
The wild affair between the Metropolitan Division franchises — the Rangers and Blue Jackets combined to attempt 138 shots — saw Chris Kreider be ejected for boarding Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin 21 seconds into the second period. Replays showed the rookie left wing collided with Tyutin shoulder-to-shoulder, and the Columbus defenseman went flying into the half boards. Immediately, Brandon Dubinsky flew over to challenge Kreider, who declined the invitation to fight, while Tyutin was examined on the ice.
Instead, the Calder Trophy candidate skated off the ice as he was assessed a five-minute major for boarding and a 10-minute game misconduct. Tyutin only skated one more shift, totaling 12 seconds, and the Blue Jackets reported on Twitter he suffered a lower-body injury.
Kreider was not made available to the media.
“If you look at the replay — I looked at the replay — he tried to stop,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “Anytime a guy gets pushed into the boards the way he did, the referees don’t have much of a choice.”
When asked directly if he was concerned the NHL’s Depart of Player Safety would suspend Kreider for the hit, Vigneault said, “I don’t think so.”
Columbus scored twice in the second period to turn a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 lead. Cam Atkinson scored on a breakaway exactly 40 seconds after Kreider was ejected, beating Henrik Lundqvist (36 saves) with a deke to the far post to put the Blue Jackets ahead 2-1. Ex-Islander James Wisniewski lifted Dubinsky’s cross-ice feed over Lundqvist to push the lead to 3-1 15:46 after Atkinson’s goal.
But the team who has had its makeup publicly questioned throughout the campaign showed it may possess the attribute, as Brian Boyle and Rick Nash scored third period goals to tie the game.
The game remained tied until the skills competition, where Atkinson and Ryan Johansen scored.
Despite the addition of Daniel Carcillo, Vigneault opted to ice the same lineup which smoked Toronto, 7-1, Saturday night. The decision appeared prescient after the opening 20 minutes, even though the teams went into the first intermission tied at 1-1. The Rangers spent large stretches of the first period attacking, leading to a 16-10 advantage in shots on goal, as they out-attempted Columbus 21-17.
But Columbus broke through first as Dubinsky shoved Wisniewski’s point shot through Lundqvist with 2:53 remaining. But Nash equalized on the power play exactly two minutes later.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.