NEW YORK – Even on a night of missed opportunities, the Rangers got another jolt of good news.
It came in the form of No. 22 stepping onto the ice at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers’ big free agent splash Dan Boyle returning from the broken right hand he injured on Opening Night exactly five weeks ago.
The missed opportunity came in the form of a shootout loss to the scuffling Avalanche (5-8-5), who beat Henrik Lundqvist twice in the skills competition to earn a 4-3 win after the Rangers took the lead into the third period.
Boyle’s return means the Rangers (7-6-3) are now missing only one of their mainstay players, captain Ryan McDonagh, who remains out with a separated shoulder.
“To steal Derek Stepan’s line from [four] games ago [when he returned], ‘a case of the rust,’ I believe is what he said,” Boyle said after skating 22:14, including 2:24 on the power play. “It was what I thought it was going to be. The legs and the hands were a step behind, but for somebody that’s 17 or 18 games behind the rest of the guys I thought I did some good things, and some things will obviously get better as we go on.
“There were times where I could feel [the hand],” Boyle said, who told reporters on Wednesday he expects to feel some pain for the next four-to-six weeks. “Sometimes, I didn’t. Going to try to eliminate those moments where there’s that little sharp pain, but I think more than anything it was the fact I haven’t played in 15 or 16 games.”
Boyle immediately jumped on the team’s top power play unit, which didn’t score in three official attempts, though one of those power plays was just 14 seconds. In the third period, the Rangers had a pair of man-up chances, but were unable to score on either one.
“Our power play had two opportunities in the third and that unit, which was our top unit, didn’t get a shot,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “Obviously that’s not Dan’s fault, but our top unit didn’t get a shot in two opportunities. I know that group can be better, and they will be better as we go along.”
“I would have liked to put one in. We’re going to get better,” said Boyle, who was attempting to direct traffic on the man advantage late in the third. “Whatever power play, whoever’s out there you need somebody in front of the net, you need to shoot the puck, and you need to get it back. No matter what you do you need those three things. Doesn’t matter what we do out there, we need to get a little bit better at getting the shots through, getting the puck back and sustaining pressure.”
The Rangers took the lead into the third period after scoring three goals in the second. But Nathan MacKinnon’s power play wrister with 12:06 left in the third deflected off Dan Girardi’s stick and through Lundqvist’s five-hole, sending the game to its eventual conclusion in the skills competition.
“When you come up short like this you’re always disappointed,” Lundqvist said after making 26 saves in regulation and overtime. “You try to find some answers for what you can do better for next time, but overall it was a good performance.”
“Obviously you don’t want to give up leads, but I think as we move forward here we can learn from it,” said Stepan, who scored his first of the year in the second period. “There’s nothing we can do about it now.”
In the shootout, Vigneault made the unusual decision to shoot second, and when MacKinnon beat Lundqvist to open the skills contest, the Rangers were immediately behind the eight-ball.
“I knew they were a good shootout team,” Vigneault said. “Our best player is our goaltender, last two shootouts we had lost by going first, so I decided to switch it up. Guess I made the wrong call.”
Alex Tanguay, who was all over the puck throughout the game, scored the shootout winner in the third round when he outwaited Lundqvist, much to the goaltender’s dismay.
“I have to be more patient. It’s not good enough,” Lundqvist said after dropping to 1-2 in the shootout this season. “You’re going to face some good players and they’re going to wait for you to make a move. I feel like I dropped too fast, I tried to be a little more aggressive and come out a little bit more. Next time I’ll try to improve it and get that point.”
Defenseman John Moore started the game skating on a pair with Dan Girardi, but after he got burned on Matt Duchene’s first-period goal Vigneault moved him next to Dan Boyle, in an attempt to get Duchene away from Moore.
Through two periods, Moore was on the ice for 21 of Colorado’s 37 shot attempts (on goal, missed, and blocked), but in the third period he completely turned the tables, as the Avs got just two attempts towards the net with Moore on the ice.
Dan Girardi scored for the Rangers in the second period, just the second Rangers defenseman to register a goal. Kevin Klein has three.