Friday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, the New York Rangers did something they haven't been a part of all season -- 67 games -- and that's lose three in a row in regulation. For much of the game, some of the Rangers' bite and defensive play returned, but again, the third time in a row, they collapsed in the third period, allowing three unanswered en route to a 4-3 loss.
Fans will flip on the "alarm" button with this loss. The Rangers' lead in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division continues to shrink, the Pittsburgh Penguins' victory helping that cause as they won their eighth in a row and pulled within four points. New York has also won only four of 10.
By no means is this sugarcoating anything, but New York's play this season has brought along some very high expectations, and rightfully so. Even the best teams, though, have dips in their game: the Hawks lost nine in a row at one point and the Pens six in a row. The good teams come out of it stronger, making improvements to their game and improving from their mistakes.
Chicago, 37-25-7, has a tremendous home record, 23-7-4, and was going to be a tough test for the Rangers. New York actually played a decent defense for much of the game, limiting Chicago to 22 shots, though Henrik Lundqvist was called upon to make a number of key saves.
Artem Anisimov got the Rangers on the board first in the winding seconds of the first 20 minutes. It was something to build from, but the Rangers couldn't get the all-important second goal, instead ceding it to Andrew Shaw at 14:28 of the period.
But the Rangers showed their resiliency, even in the midst of their struggles, by getting the go-ahead goal at 7:11 of the third period. Brandon Prust scored his seventh. That lead lasted six minutes, however, as Patrick Sharp potted one ... prompting the floodgates to open for three straight (the last one coming with an empty net). Brad Richards scored the third goal with 41 seconds left, but the Rangers weren't able to break through again with the extra attacker.
Over the last three games, the Rangers have given up eight goals (granted two empty-netters) in the third period. They've also only scored five goals, though they definitely showed improvement in that regard versus the Blackhawks.
The Rangers will play the New York Islanders next at home, which is the first in a seven-game homestand.