While an optimist would say the Rangers were significantly better than the group which was humiliated in San Jose six months earlier, the reality is that the end result was the same.
And it could be devastating should the Rangers find themselves on the outside looking in when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin one month from now.
“Right now we need points,” head coach Alain Vigneault said after the Rangers came up short Sunday afternoon at the Garden as they dropped a 1-0 decision to San Jose.
Coupled with the Flyers’ 4-3 win over the Penguins earlier in the day, the Rangers fell to eighth in the East. The Rangers have lost three of their last four games, and have 13 games remaining this season. Eight of their final 13 games are on the road, where they have a 20-13-0 record.
“We’re trying to get two points,” Brad Richards said. “Everybody is winning around us. We’re trying to battle here.”
Since the 2005-06 season, it has taken a minimum of 87.375 points to qualify for an Eastern Conference playoff berth. Of course, that comes with the addendum that the 2009-10 Canadiens and the 2013 Islanders were outlier. Montreal qualified for the playoffs with 88 points in 82 games while the Islanders recorded 55 points in the lockout-shortened season. The other six Eastern Conference eight seeds earned an average of 92.6 points to qualify for the playoffs.
The Rangers have 76 points in 69 games this season, an average of 1.10 points per game. Over the course of 82 games that would translate to 90.3 points.
“We definitely understand how important every point is right now,” said Henrik Lundqvist, following his 28 save effort. “It’s hard to be positive about things when you don’t win. Right now it’s about points. It’s disappointing but we have to regroup because there’s a lot of hockey left here. We have to get ready for [Tuesday’s game in Ottawa against the Senators] and we need two points in the next game.”
Goals would be helpful to their cause. The Rangers have scored just six goals in the last four games.
“We gave ourselves a lot more looks than the last three road games where we weren’t creating much at all,” Richards said. “[Sunday] was more our game.”
While the Rangers were not outclassed in the same manner they were in the 9-2 loss to the Sharks at the SAP Center on Oct. 8, there was still a distinct difference between the two teams. San Jose was able to use its size and speed effectively against the smallish Rangers, who weren’t able to generate traffic in front of Antti Niemi, despite having a 41-29 advantage in shots on goal.
“We still need more traffic,” Richards said. “Other teams are trying to stop us from going to the net. That’s their goal. We try to get there; they try to stop us from getting there. Just because you say we have to get to the net, that doesn’t mean there’s going to be a pathway right to the net. We have to make a conscious effort [to get] there.”
Logan Couture’s shorthanded breakaway in the first period was the game’s lone goal. The shorthanded goal was his second man-down goal of the season for the San Jose center.
It appeared Carl Hagelin had tied the game late in the second but a video replay showed the puck had crossed the line after Antti Niemi moved his leg off the post. The resulting call to overturn the goal prompted loud boos from the crowd.
“This is not me saying this, this is some of my friends, ‘They make it up as they go along,'” Vigneault said. “I’m just going to leave it at that.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.