NEW YORK – First the Rangers lost the lead. Then they lost their confidence. Then they lost the game.
A third-period meltdown did them in; just two nights after the Maple Leafs scored five goals in a span of less than ten minutes in the second period, the Islanders rocked the Rangers for three goals in a span of 4:32 and four goals in 10:11 during the third, sending the Rangers to their third-straight defeat.
“It was a situation where one mistake bundled into a handful,” said Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. “You kind of find yourself running around and losing track of where you are on the ice. Another few goals from right in front of the net, and that’s an area we’re going to focus on right away tomorrow and sort it out.”
“Good question,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said when asked why things snowballed so quickly. “Don’t have an answer for you right now. Obviously we need to watch the film again. Very tough to explain. I really liked our first 40 minutes five-on-five. Difference in this game was probably the second period where we had numerous Grade ‘A’ opportunities, couldn’t score, then we made a few mistakes and they made us pay for it. Simple as that.”
Things were actually looking OK for the Blueshirts after a second period that saw them outshoot the Isles 21-8. Through 40 minutes, they had 25 more shot attempts (on goal, missed, blocked), than their counterparts from Long Island. Yet, the game remained tied thanks to strong work from Jaroslav Halak, who improved to 2-0-0 after making 40 saves.
After the Islanders’ goaltender kept them in it, their offense sent them to their third-straight victory to open the season, the first time they’ve done that since the 2001-02 season, when they started 4-0-0.
“We all want to win so badly, especially at home,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “Sometimes when you try to do too much, you’re going to get hurt. I think that’s the case for me and for the team right now.”
Michael Kostka, making his first appearance of the regular season, was directly responsible for two of the Isles goals, turning the puck over twice in his own end – first to Nikolay Kulemin with five minutes left in the second, and again to Kyle Okposo less than a minute into the third.
“Mistakes are going to happen in the game,” Vigneault said. “Cannot not play every player who makes a mistake. It’s a game of mistakes. Got to give them an opportunity to play through ‘em, and find a way to bounce back. In that case, there, it didn’t go the way Mike had anticipated.”
“I don’t think anyone can sit down and say they played a full 60-minute game,” McDonagh said. “Until we find that, it’s going to be tough for us to win games. Every single one of us knows that we have more to give. We have to shore up the smarter side to our game.”
Brock Nelson and Mikhail Grabovski added goals for the Isles early in the third to put the game out of reach, and Nick Leddy added another one midway through the third.
“It kind of looked that way,” said Dan Girardi when asked if the team lost confidence during the Islanders’ onslaught. “Once they got one, we sat back on our heels, we all get nervous, and can’t just get that next shift in their end and get the momentum back in our favor. It was just kind of a nightmare, snowball effect. The ice was just tilted. It’s not enjoyable out there.”
“It’s extremely important that we play with smartness all over the ice,” said Lundqvist, who allowed six goals in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. “I think as a goalie I play with good structure but then I lose my structure a little bit when we, as a group, lose our structure a little bit. Together, we need to regroup and be better. So many good things today, but then we let it slip away. We have to talk about this, address it, and correct it.”
The Rangers are going to have to fix their defensive issues from in-house. With Dan Boyle expected to be out another 3-5 weeks due to a fractured hand, the team doesn’t have the salary cap room to add major pieces from outside the organization.
“It’s very uncharacteristic of us. It’s something we need to address immediately,” Girardi said. “Myself, all the leaders in the room have to find a way to let all the new guys and the younger guys know what it takes. We all have to come together and figure this thing out. We’re lucky we’re only four games in, but at the same time we’re digging ourselves a hole. We need to get this going in the right direction on Thursday.”
“It’s about ten minutes over the last two games that, somehow, we’ve become unraveled on the ice,” Vigneault said. “I’m sure we can fix that.”
Rick Nash, whose wife gave birth to the couple’s first child on Monday, scored two goals. He’s the first player in Rangers franchise history to open the season by scoring goals in four straight games, and is the first Rangers with at least six goals in the first four games of the season since Don Murdoch in 1976-’77. (eight goals)