Friday morning Brad Richards stated that the Rangers could not expect the Calgary Flames to hand them two points just because they are out of playoff contention in the Western Conference. His words certainly seemed on the mark later in the night as the Rangers began their four-game road trip out west with a 4-3 loss to the Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The loss was New York's first in six games, snapping their season-best five-game winning streak. Coupled with Philadelphia's 4-2 win over Toronto earlier in the evening, the Rangers' lead over the Flyers for second place in the Metropolitan Division is now down to one point, and Philly has two games in hand.
"It was pretty uncharacteristic of us, usually we're defensively strong, but tonight it got away from us," explained defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "We could have controlled the outcome because we had the puck a lot during the game, but when we didn't we weren't as sound positionally as we needed to be. In the end, the key was we were too sloppy in our defensive zone."
Down by a goal midway through the third period the Rangers pressed for the equalizer on several shifts, but Flames goalie Karri Ramo made several important stops, including point-blank saves on both Marty St. Louis and Derek Stepan. Ramo finished the night with 38 saves, including 18 in the first period.
"We got some good looks, and we scored three, and that wasn't enough tonight," noted head coach Alain Vigneault.
Trailing 2-0 early in the second period, the Rangers erupted for three goals in a span of three minutes 27 seconds to grab a 3-2 lead. However Calgary not only tied it, the Flames scored with 7.8 seconds remaining in the period to carry a 4-3 lead into the third period.
"You get down 2-0 early and then are fortunate to get back ahead 3-2, you've got to be more tight and not give them that momentum back, but that's what happened," said Richards, who led the team with five shots on goal. "It seemed after we got ahead 3-2 we gave them four, five point-blank shots in the slot, and we dipped. We have to tighten that up."
The fourth line got the Rangers going with Brian Boyle scoring his sixth goal on a slam dunk in front at 2:12, with linemates Derek Dorsett and Dominic Moore assisting. Then 39 seconds later the Rangers tied the game when Raphael Diaz's right wing shot hit a Flames defenseman in front and bounded past Ramo at 2:51. The goal was Diaz's first in four games as a Ranger, and his second overall this season.
Richards, who assisted on the Diaz goal, scored one of his own at 5:39, giving New York its first lead of the night. Carl Hagelin hit Richards in stride on right wing with a quick pass and Richards made no mistake ripping a shot past Ramo for his 18th goal of the season.
Seemingly with all the momentum on their side, the Rangers took their foot off the gas peddle just a bit and the Flames worked their way back into the game. Kevin Westgarth charged Henrik Lundqvist's net and pushed a loose puck into the cage at 13:49, tying the score at three apiece. Lundqvist was angry with the officials thinking they should have blown the whistle since the puck was between his pads, but it was to no avail as the goal stood.
It appeared that the two teams would reach the third period even on the scoreboard, but with ust 7.8 seconds to play in the second the Rangers were caught on a bad line change and Mike Cammalleri proceeded to wrist one between Lundqvist's pads for his team-leading 24th goal, and once again new York found itself trailing. It was a goal Lundqvist most definitely would want back.
"That's just a weak goal, I can't give that up," admitted Lundqvist, who stopped 25 of 29 shots Friday. "That late in the period it's just a tough goal to give up, and it's on me. There's no excuses on that shot."
Despite peppering Ramo with 18 shots in the first period, and generating a slew of Grade A scoring chances, the Rangers did not get off to the start they wanted Friday night as they found themselves in a 2-0 hole after the first 20 minutes of play. Joe Colborne scored a power play goal with Dorsett in the penalty box at 4:51 to give Calgary an early advantage on the scoreboard, and then Flames captain Mark Giordano ripped a shot from between the circles over Lundqvist's glove at 16:49 to put New York at a two-goal deficit.
To frustrate the Rangers even more is that exactly ten minutes before Giordano's goal it had appeared the visitors had tied the game on St. Louis' first goal with New York, but after video review it was determined the puck was directed into the net off of St. Louis' skate after a sweet pass from Rick Nash.
With under a minute to play in the first Ramo was strong on a series of in-tight chances by the Rangers fourth line, and then made a sensational glove save on Stepan's point-blank backhand shot.
"It's disappointing," concluded McDonagh. "We've been sound here, we've been rolling as far as our defensive play, and it just slipped away from us."
New York played once again without Chris Kreider and John Moore. Kreider underwent surgery on his injured left hand earlier in the day back in New York and is out indefinitely, missing his second straight game; and Moore sat out his fourth consecutive contest due to concussion symptoms, though he did take part in the morning skate on Friday.
The Rangers return to action Sunday night when they face the Oilers in Edmonton.