NEW YORK – It wasn’t how the Rangers finished. It was how they started.
The Blue Jackets not only scored the game’s first goal just 38 seconds into Thursday night’s game at Madison Square Garden, they scored the game’s first three goals – all within the first 11 minutes, 10 seconds. Just like that, Henrik Lundqvist (10 saves) was off the ice and on the bench, and the Rangers (15-17-1) were well behind the eight ball en-route to a 4-2 loss.
“It creates a big hole,” said Ryan McDonagh of allowing the game’s first three goals. “It’s not just one, but three. That’s a big hole.”
The Rangers fell to 1-15-0 when allowing the game’s first goal.
“When you have a challenge generating some offense and scoring goals, that’s why you have a record like that,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of the team’s struggle when conceding first.
“The same mistakes we’ve talked about occurred again,” McDonagh said. “It’s costing us. It’s costing us goals, and it created a big hole tonight. It’s tough to win games when you’re giving yourself a big hole like that.”
“It’s obviously really tough for us – the way things have been going — allowing the first goal,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “We’re trying to be a mentally strong team out there and not let stuff like that bother us.”
The Blueshirts are winless during their franchise-record nine-game homestand, a stretch during which they’re scheduled to face just one elite team, when the Penguins come to town on Wednesday. Four games into the stretch, they’re 0-3-1, their lone point coming in an overtime loss to the Devils this past Saturday.
It may just be a slump, but it’s happening at the wrong time for the Rangers.
“That’s a no-brainer,” Girardi said. “Being home for nine in a row or whatever it is, it’s a chance for us to really propel ourselves up the standings. It’s pretty unfortunate we’ve lost the first four. Hopefully we can figure out how to salvage the rest of the homestand and bring us back to .500.”
It’s been three straight regulation losses at home for the Rangers. First, a lethargic 4-1 loss to the Capitals (6th in the conference). Then, a dispiriting 4-1 loss to Nashville, which stands 11th in the West. Thursday night, it was a 4-2 loss to Columbus, which stands in 10th place in the East.
“We have to find a win,” McDonagh said. “It just takes one win here to clear everybody’s mind and hopefully get back on track. It’s going to be a tough battle for us to get that one. As soon as we do, we’ll build on it and get confidence from that.”
It’s a Rangers team that has lost all confidence. It’s a Rangers team that has lost its way with the fundamental aspects of the game. And it’s a Rangers team that seems completely unable to put the puck in the net, scoring just four goals in their last three games, and seven goals during the first four games of the homestand.
“We have to find a way to get some confidence back in our game,” said Derek Stepan. “I think confidence is a big thing. We had some good looks. Whatever it is, gripping the stick or whatever it is, it’s just something we’ve got to get back.”
“You get in a jam, it’s tough,” said Brad Richards. “It seems like everything is going the wrong way, but you have to trust and believe that we’ll have our time with it going that way too.”
“The biggest thing for me now, is do what I do and stay confident,” Lundqvist said. “Confidence is such an important thing in this game, and right now it’s not very high.”
Henrik Lundqvist was pulled from the game after allowing three goals on 13 shots. It’s the second time this season he hasn’t finished a game he started.
Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky made their return to New York for the first time as opponents after being traded from Broadway as part of the Rick Nash trade last July. Marian Gaborik, traded by the Rangers to Columbus in April, missed the game with a sprained knee.
“I fired myself up so much,” Dubinsky said after playing nearly 15 minutes in the win. “I wasted so much energy firing myself up.”
Anisimov scored a goal in his New York return, while playing just over 16 minutes.
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