Henrik Lundqvist smashed his stick over the crossbar.
Lundqvist was 74 seconds away from forcing overtime, from single-handedly stealing a point for his undeserving teammates.
Then the puck was behind him, and the game, for all intents and purposes, was over.
Unlike two nights prior, there weren’t many positives emanating following Thursday night’s 2-0 shutout loss to Ottawa at the Garden.
Ex-Ranger Alex Kovalev and ex-Islander Chris Campoli combined for the game’s deciding goal. Kovalev circled in the offensive zone, drawing Marian Gaborik to him and leaving the middle of the ice open. Campoli snuck in from the point and wristed a shot from the left faceoff circle into the net.
“I cost us the game,” said Gaborik.
“This is a game we should win,” Lundqvist said. “We play hard for the whole game and I don’t know what we did in the last minute.
The Rangers, Senators and Bruins are in a virtual tie for fifth place in the East with 51 points. The Rangers next game is Saturday night in St. Louis.
Perhaps by the time they visit old friend John Davidson, the Rangers will have remembered that it is imperative to put the puck in the net. The last Rangers goal was Erik Christensen’s score 37 seconds into the third period Saturday’s 3-1, a span of 124:23. Following last night’s loss, there were ideas offered forth from the Rangers as to how to score.
“We have to get inside and create more traffic,” Gaborik suggested.
“I think it’s a matter of going to the blue paint and getting a dirty (goal), standing in there (and) getting an extra cross check in the back or in the head to get that dirty goal,” Ryan Callahan said.
As impotent as the Rangers have been offensively, they had been that good defensively.
The Rangers had not allowed a goal in 127:30 until Campoli’s game-winner. For good measure, Chris Kelly added an empty-netter with 11 seconds remaining. Before last night, the last goal the Rangers had allowed was Boston’ Dennis Wideman score with 3:44 left in the third period Saturday in the Rangers’ 3-1 win.
The last time the Rangers had consecutive shutouts was February 7 and 8, 1928, against Ottawa. Lorne Chabot (Rangers) and Alec Connell (Ottawa) were the goaltenders. The Rangers won the first of their four Cups that season.
In an abbreviated pre-game press conference, John Tortorella said that the coaching staff had talked to the players at Wednesday’s practice about Ottawa having lost five in a row going into the match. He also said that there would be a discussion about that at the Rangers’ early meeting.
What was said did not take as Ottawa dominated in the game’s first five minutes, outshooting the Rangers, 7-2, before Tortorella called timeout. The Rangers were outshot, 15-10, for the period. The Senators outshot the Rangers, 34-32, for the game.
“I’m not in their heads. I don’t understand. It’s a team we’re fighting against for a playoff spot and we know they were embarrassed the night before. We tried to guard against it but I guess they weren’t listening,” said an under control but clearly angry Tortorella. “That team wanted to play harder than we did tonight. They deserved what they got. We deserved what we got. They simply worked harder.”
Despite being outplayed in the period and for most of the game, the Rangers had an opportunity to win because of Lundqvist in nets. Lundqvist was the best Ranger on the ice by far, stopping 32 of 33 shots. He was not, however, interested in moral victories.
“I don’t really care how I played, good or bad. It’s just frustrating not to win,” Lundqvist said. “The points are so important right now. It’s disappointing to come up short, again, in a tight game.”
Mike Brodeur started for Ottawa last night. Brodeur—a distant relation to Devils’ Hall of Famer to be goaltender Martin Brodeur—was called up from AHL Binghamton after Pascal Leclaire was injured during Ottawa’s early skate. Brodeur made his first NHL start in Ottawa’s 4-1 win over Minnesota on December 19, in which he stopped 22 of 23 shots. He was even better in his second NHL start. In his first game at The Garden, Brodeur stopped all 34 Rangers shots.
“Mike was outstanding,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said. “Full credit to Mike.”
And full discredit to the Rangers.
Some may ascribe sentimentality when returning to a place where they started a career.
Then there is Kovalev.
Kovalev denied any excitement about playing one of his former employers. In his 16th NHL season, Kovalev has played for the Rangers, Pittsburgh, Montreal and Ottawa. He was a key component to the 1993-94 Stanley Cup Championship-winning Rangers.
“It’s just another game. It’s been too long,” Kovalev said following Ottawa’s morning skate at the Garden.
Kovalev totaled 142 goals, 188 assists, 340 points in 489 games with 533 penalty minutes and was -13 in his two stints with the Rangers. In 44 games with Ottawa this season, Kovalev has 11 goals, 18 assists and 29 points. He ranks second in goals and points behind Mike Fisher (15 and 32, respectively) and leads in assists. Kovalev has played in 1195 games and recorded 405 goals, 565 assists, 970 points with 1230 penalty minutes and is -16 in his career.
Campoli may have found a NHL home with the Senators.
Traded along with Mike Comrie to Ottawa last year, the Mississauga, Ontario, native has been steady for Ottawa with 13 points this season, including last night’s game-winning goal.
“It’s been great. I’m happy in Ottawa. We’ve got a good team, we’re competitive. When you’re winning it’s a little more fun,” Campoli said. “The passion in Ottawa…it’s a hockey driven market for sure. It motivates you as a player.”
Chad Johnson made his first NHL start in the Rangers’ 2-1 shootout loss in Atlanta. Since then he’s watched from the bench. With 15 games—eight at the Garden—remaining before the Olympic Break, what are the chances that Johnson starts a home game?
“I think as the schedule goes. It’s not locked in. Eventually he will get a home game (just) not in the near future,” Tortorella said.
Forwards Enver Lisin and Aaron Voros were scratched by Tortorella. Ottawa’s scratched were defenseman Filip Kuba, along with Leclaire.
Donald Brashear and Matt Carkner engaged each other in two first period heavyweight bouts in a span of 8:19.
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