NEW YORK – Even scoring the first goal of the game couldn’t help the Rangers tonight.
After allowing their opponent to open the scoring during seven of their last eight losses, Sean Avery broke the ice just 3:13 into the game by wristing in a brilliant feed by Erik Christensen. New York even took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission – they had been 12-2-2 this season when leading after 20 minutes.
But Minnesota got three deflection goals – one of them a deflection off Matt Gilroy’s stick – and defeated the Rangers 3-1 at Madison Square Garden Thursday night. The Rangers (33-29-4) finished their three-game homestand without a single point. They’ve lost each of their last four home games.
“We had some chances but we just didn’t find a way to bury them,” said winger Brandon Dubinsky. “We have to find a way to bury it. At this point we have to have guys hang around the net a little bit longer and get a bounce, get something to go off somebody’s butt if that’s what it takes and find a way to get the second one.”
“It’s definitely hard not to get frustrated,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (16 saves on 19 shots). “We had such a good road trip, coming back and playing three at home — it’s not good enough to lose all three. Obviously, we worked as hard as we could, that’s not the issue. We just keep coming up short game after game at home. It’s frustrating for everybody.”
The Rangers, who put 41 shots on Wild goaltender Jose Theodore’s cage, didn’t even allow the Wild a shot on goal until 2:43 remained in the first period.
“We had  shots, but we’d rather have 20 and four goals than 40 and one,” said Marc Staal, who returned to the ice after sitting out three games with a knee injury. “We get that first one, it‘s a big goal for us but we needed to get that second one just to get ourselves a little breathing room. We weren’t able to do that, and they capitalized.”
In fact, they came breathtakingly close to getting that second goal. With 5:02 left in the opening period, Ryan Callahan collected a loose puck just beyond the crease, and prepared to deposit it into a mostly-vacated net. But Theodore (40 saves), in a prone position, reached his arm across the crease and remarkably deflected the puck away from the cage with his stick.
“I thought the most important part, after we got the one goal lead, we had a couple opportunities, we had a couple power plays,” said coach John Tortorella. “I don’t think we generated a whole bunch, a great chance by Cally, we don’t score.”
“Lately, it feels like we’re chasing in a lot of games,” Lundqvist said. “It’s tough. Teams back up and make it really tough for us. But we’re definitely getting the chances. We just don’t bury them. If you don’t score, you’re not winning.”
New York outshot the Wild 33-16 over the final two periods, but left the ice to boos and catcalls. A playoff spot that seemed secure just two weeks ago is now as tenuous as it gets. The Rangers sit in the eighth and final playoff spot, two points in front of Buffalo, and only three ahead of Toronto.
“The effort is there, everybody’s working hard, we’re trying. It’s just… I don’t know,” said Lundqvist after his third consecutive defeat. “I don’t know what else to say. The only thing we can do is keep working and hope it turns around for us.”
Minnesota’s three goals each came on pin ball situations. At 4:36 of the second, Jared Spurgeon’s point shot was deflected in by Kyle Brodziak. Exactly eight minutes later, Casey Wellman scored his second career goal on a deflection in the slot off Brent Burns’s blast.
In the third, Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s wrister in the slot deflected in off Gilroy’s stick with 11:45 left.
“It feels like the teams we’re playing don’t have to work very hard for their goals even though we’re playing pretty well,” Lundqvist said. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”
“We had a three-on-one the other night, we turn it over on a three-on-one, it ends up in the back of our net,” Tortorella said. “Tonight, Dubi and Cally working hard end up with a two-on-one, we get nothing, ends up in the back of our net. You can call it bad luck, you can call it whatever you want, we simply have to score some goals.”
“We’ll take the 40 shots as a positive,” Avery said. “But we have to win a game.”
Ryan McDonagh left the game in the third period with an apparent knee injury after getting tangled up and going down awkwardly. Tortorella said afterwards he didn’t think there was any structural damage, and that McDonagh was day-to-day.
The Rangers dropped to 14-16-3 at home. New York hasn’t finished the season below .500 at home since 2003-2004 (13-21-3-4).