NEW YORK – The Rangers picked an awfully bad time to play one of their only clunkers of the season.
After Thursday night’s 2-1 shootout loss to Ottawa (28-37-9, 65 points, 15th in East), they now have only seven games left – four of them away from the Garden. Thanks to Boston’s 7-0 win over sixth-place Montreal, New York (40-30-5, 85 points, 7th in East) moved to within two points of that sixth seed.
“It’s a huge point. As long as we understand, as we go back to work tomorrow… this team will respond. They haven’t played many bad ones,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “They haven’t played without energy many times this year. Tonight, everybody did. We steal a point. I thought we squeezed it in the third period and found a way. I thought we played a little bit better in the third period. Even in the shootout, the shootouts didn’t look right. We take the point, stuff it in your back pocket, and move by this.”
“They are playoff games,” said Ryan Callahan after skating 23:01 to lead all Rangers forwards. “We’re battling for our lives right now. Every point means so much, and the last few games we’ve approached them like playoff games. Unfortunately tonight, we didn’t have the effort and execution we needed to.”
The loss, which breaks New York’s five-game winning streak, was one in which the team with 63 points – worst in the conference – largely outplayed the team fighting for playoff positioning.
Ottawa, which had nothing to lose, played the low-tempo game they wanted to play. The Rangers just couldn’t answer.
“We’ve been working hard for so many games, when we drop a little bit you can notice it,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (29 saves). “I don’t know what was missing. I felt like they wanted a low-tempo game, and we let them. We’re happy we got a point at least. We scored two goals in two games and got three points.”
“Sometimes they’re harder games to play, to get up for,” defenseman Marc Staal said of playing a team out of playoff position. “We know we had to have the win — sometimes that plays against you a little bit.”
Staal played a team-high 29:34 in his return from an undisclosed injury, and tallied the primary assist on Brandon Prust’s goal.
“I don’t think we played the game we needed to, for whatever reason,” Callahan said. “This was a pretty important game for us, we needed these two points, and we didn’t have the effort we needed to right from the start. We were pretty lucky to get a point out of it. It’s a tough one, but we have to put it behind us and move on.”
“I just don’t have the answer for it. Obviously, we don’t go into the game thinking like this. We go into the game trying to come out with a totally different result than we came out with today,” said Vinny Prospal. “We try to play the way we’re supposed to play, and we didn’t do it tonight. That’s why we had to play the overtime and shootout, because we weren’t as sharp as we usually are.”
“I’m happy we came back. It looked pretty dead the first two periods,” said Lundqvist. “We played a lot better in the third, we started skating more, hitting, and got a few more chances. At least we got a point. We should have palyed better and got the two tonight.”
Prust’s goal gave him a career-high of 12 this season. Sixteen of his eighteen career goals have come in 101 games as a Ranger.
The Rangers are seven points in front of ninth-place Carolina. The Hurricanes have two games in hand. Buffalo, in eighth place, sits four points behind New York, also with two games in hand. The Rangers hold the tiebreaker (regulation and overtime wins) over both teams.