The Rangers spotted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 3-0 lead Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, rallied to get within one, but ultimately lost their fourth straight game, falling 4-2, to remain winless so far on their nine-game homestand.
Thursday's loss followed a pair of 4-1 home-ice defeats at the hands of the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals and a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils last Saturday to make the Rangers 0-3-1 to start this current homestand. They are only 5-9-1 at The Garden this season, and have just one win in their last nine home contests (1-7-1).
Trailing 3-1 more than halfway through the third period, Dan Girardi scored his second goal of the season to bring the Rangers back within one with 8:53 remaining in regulation. With the teams skating four-on-four, Michael Del Zotto sent a long breakout pass to Mats Zuccarello on left wing. Zuccarello gained the offensive zone and zipped a cross ice pass to Girardi who fired a shot past Blue Jackets goaltender Mike McKenna to give the home team a chance at coming back and erasing their original three-goal deficit.
Any thoughts of a big Blueshirt comeback were doused, though, when Columbus' Ryan Johansen snuck a shot through Cam Talbot's pads with 1:32 to play to restore a two-goal cushion for the Blue Jackets.
It was the only goal Talbot allowed on the night after replacing Henrik Lundqvist in the first period. Talbot faced 14 shots in total.
The Rangers were forced to rally when they surrendered the first three goals of the game over the course of the opening 11 minutes 10 seconds of play. Columbus scored on three of their first 13 shots, knocking Lundqvist from the game in the process, and silencing The Garden crowd, as well.
Matt Calvert beat Lundqvist over the glove off a left-wing rush just 38 seconds into the game, setting the tone for another rough start for the Blueshirts on home ice. Former Ranger Artem Anisimov converted the rebound of a Blake Comeau shot at 8:46 with three Blue Jackets in front of Lundqvist and only John Moore back for New York to put Columbus ahead 2-0.
Rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath, making his NHL debut, was caught up ice on Anisimov's goal delivering a big hit on Boone Jenner instead of playing the puck at center ice. The Ranger forwards also were caught in the neutral zone leaving Moore and Lundqvist to contend unsuccessfully with the countering Blue Jackets.
Columbus defenseman David Savard scored his first goal of the season with 8:50 to play in the first period when his shot deflected off Del Zotto and past Lundqvist for an unassisted goal that made the score 3-0 in favor of the visitors. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault elected to replace Lundqvist with Talbot at that point, Lundqvist having surrendered three goals on 13 shots.
The Rangers did get one back before the wild first period was over. Dominic Moore converted a rebound of a Brad Richards shot, after a tenacious forecheck by Derek Dorsett, at 14:08 to bring the home team within two of Columbus. The goal was Moore's first of the season, and first since January 17, 2012 when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Since Moore did not play last season, it was a span of 59 games between goals for the veteran center.
McKenna entered the game at the start of the second period, replacing starter Curtis McElhinney who exited with a lower body injury. Facing a third-string goaltender for the third straight game, the Rangers missed time and again on the scoring opportunities they did generate, and McKenna held them off the scoreboard until Girardi's third-period tally.
Brian Boyle had a glorious scoring chance in the second period when he went to the net and had a rebound fall right on his stick, but his shot from right out in front was denied by McKenna. This was McKenna's first NHL appearance since December 2, 2010 when he played for the Devils. McKenna is up with the Blue Jackets because the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky is sidelined by a groin injury.
McIlrath logged 8:55 worth of ice-time over 13 shifts in his NHL debut after being recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack on Wednesday. He was a minus-one, was credited with one hit, and drew a high-sticking penalty on former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky during a second-period post-whistle skirmish.
For Dubinsky and Anisimov it was their first game back at The Garden since being traded to the Blue Jackets for Rick Nash two summers ago. Thursday's game also marked Nash's first game against his former club, and hewas held without a shot on goal despite playing 22:51.
The Rangers most effective player Thursday was Richards, who not only assisted on Moore's goal, earning his team-high 25th point in the process, but he fired a season-high nine shots on goal over 23:41.
Desperately seeking a win, the Rangers will host the Calgary Flames Sunday night at MSG.