The New York Rangers played a winning brand of hockey Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche, they just came up on the short side of a 3-1 decision because of some other-wordly goaltending play by Semyon Varlamov. Sometimes, you just have to tip your hat when an opponent puts on a display like the 23-year-old did, making 41 saves.
The problem with this loss is that it comes in crunch time, with the Pittsburgh Penguins charging up the standings (two points behind for first place in the Eastern Conference and one fewer game played. The analysts will chalk this up as another loss for a Rangers team that has stumbled in March and has now dropped two straight. But it really wasn't.
There is no doubt that if New York puts on the offensive display, coupled with pretty stingy defense it showed against Colorado, it will be very successful as the playoffs begin. Of course, only Mats Zuccarello solved Varlamov, and it came as the game's first goal midway through the first period. But the Ranges put on a shot barrage -- 16 in the first, 10 in the second, 16 in the third -- and created chances throughout the game. Varlamov was simply the difference.
The Blueshirts allowed 20 shots in the game. Matt Hunwick took a pass from Peter Mueller at the top of the offensive zone and undressed Stu Bickel, but Gabriel Landeskog's goal 9:51 into the second period was a slick deflection that beat Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers could have been a little tighter defensively on these plays, but both were very opportunistic. The final goal was scored on an empty net.
Varlamov's performance might have been the best the Rangers have seen all season. He was positionally sound, but his athleticism allows him to be so acrobatic with some saves that he can mask some slight mistakes. The Rangers went 0-for-5 on the power play, but generated numerous chances. It was just one of those games, and it comes at the wrong time for a team looking for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
New York hosts the New Jersey Devils on Monday.