The Ottawa Senators are the worst team in the Eastern Conference, yet the lackadaisical effort in the first two-thirds of the game by the New York Rangers made them look like anything but that. Despite a spirited third period and overtime, the Rangers couldn't manage to eek out the shootout win, falling, 2-1, to the lowly Senators. Despite the loss, the Rangers have earned points in their past six games.
If you watched the prior game against the Florida Panthers, you might've had to double check for the first few periods to make sure you were watching a different game Thursday night -- that's how low energy this was. Through two periods, the Rangers had 14 shots. The only sign of life from New York came after Ryan Shannon netted the game's first goal at 15:21 of the second period; in the period's waning minutes the spark finally started to ignite for the home team.
Brandon Prust's goal off a nifty falling-down feed from Marc Staal less than three minutes into the period carried the energy over and brought back mid-season memories that maybe this could be another third-period comeback. Craig Anderson was sharp in the third period and overtime, however, stopping 15 shots in the game's final 15 minutes.
The Rangers, who elected to go first in the 'Skills Competition,' went 0-for-5 in their shootout attempts -- and Erik Karlsson's wrist shot beat Henrik Lundqvist for the only goal of the competition.
Lundqvist was visibly upset as he skated off the ice -- and it's an emotion his teammates should feel as well. Sure, this was a team playing its season's best hockey in March, but it presented the Blueshirts with a prime opportunity to keep the feel-good vibes rolling. Instead, the Rangers look and see that they've scored two goals against two of the weaker teams in the East.
Regardless, New York did gain a point and sits two points behind Montreal for sixth place in the playoff race, while increasing its lead to four points over Buffalo, which has two games in hand. The sixth-place seed is very much in the Rangers' grasp and they'll have to face the team, the Boston Bruins, they'd battle in the playoffs if they succeeded Montreal in a matinee on Saturday.
The Rangers successfully avoided their first trap game this game, by downing the Florida Panthers 1-0 at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night.
New York will face a similar test tonight when it takes on the lowly Ottawa Senators at MSG.
The Rangers, winners of five consecutive games, have significantly improved their playoff stock with some fantastic play of late. Currently the Rangers are a comfortable six points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes (who are in ninth place) and three points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres (who are in eighth place). Both of those teams have a game in hand.
But the Rangers are no longer in a situation where they need to focus on the teams behind them, they can finally look ahead to the teams in front of them. The Montreal Canadiens are only three points ahead of the Rangers, with both teams having played the same amount of games.
But, as usual, that's not an excuse for the Rangers to not focus on tonight's matchup. The Senators, who are one of the league's worst teams, will still pose a threat to New York if they underestimate them.
Henrik Lundqvist, who recorded his league-leading 10th shutout against the Panthers, is expected to get the nod tonight.