Rangers blow two-goal lead in another western-swing letdown
LOS ANGELES — The way the Rangers currently are constituted, they can ill afford to make mistakes like this.
But there was just a bit of over-aggression coupled with the lack of execution on the penalty kill, and quickly the Blueshirts found themselves with a second straight loss to start this road trip, a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Kings on Sunday night at Staples Center.
Despite the Rangers holding a 2-0 lead after the first period of hockey ended, Brendan Smith decided to take matters into his own hands after the whistle by first hitting Trevor Lewis from behind then fighting Adrian Kempe.
The Rangers bench was upset that Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick had come out of his net and over the red line to antagonize what had been a regular scrum before Smith’s antics, but the Kings still got the power play — and all the momentum. Jake Muzzin scored on the man-advantage 30 seconds into the second period for the first of three straight power-play goals in the opening 10:22 of the frame to take a 3-2 lead and turn the game on its head.
“Not crazy about Smitty’s penalty,” a restrained coach Alain Vigneault said, his team coming in with the fourth-ranked penalty kill in the league. “But our PK, that had been a real good weapon for us. Tonight let us down.”
The Rangers (24-19-5) were coming off a 3-1 loss to the Avalanche in Denver on Saturday afternoon, and Vigneault turned right back to goalie Henrik Lundqvist to play both legs of a back-to-back for the third time this season. After stopping all 10 shots he faced in the first, Lundqvist allowed the power-play tallies to Muzzin, Michael Amadio and Tanner Pearson as the Kings (25-17-5) added an empty-netter from Lewis late in regulation to brake a six-game losing streak.
“Obviously you don’t have to be very bright to find out why we lost this one,” said Lundqvist, who finished with 26 saves. “We just couldn’t get it done on our penalty kill, and I’m a big part of that, obviously. I have to work even harder to try to find the puck.”
As it often happens in this building, it was not to hard to rile up memories of the 2014 Stanley Cup final, when the Kings triumphed over the Blueshirts in five hard-fought games. And when it gets tight, and when the Kings find a way to push just that much harder, it’s like pouring salt on a wound that is hardly closed.
“This is a tough building to come in and play against a good team,” forward J.T. Miller said. “It’s a frustrating one. That like a hard-fought game, a playoff-style game right there.”
It couldn’t have started better for the Rangers, who got Michael Grabner (flu) back after a one-game absence and Marc Staal (hip pointer) after he missed the previous two. They then opened up with a power-play goal of their own from David Desharnais at 3:53 of the first and added on with a greasy goal from in front by Jimmy Vesey at 7:12.
So that 2-0 lead when the horn sounded at the end of the first felt pretty good, especially the way injuries and the schedule had already predetermined this one being quite an uphill battle. But then Tony DeAngelo got into it with Lewis, who had thrown a cross check as the period was ending. Smith came to his defense — and seemingly took it too far.
“I did see the shot from behind [on Lewis], and referees are going to call that when the guy falls down,” Vigneault said. “Definitely not crazy about that penalty at that time with the way we played in the first.”
Now as this road trip continues through California with a game in Anaheim on Tuesday before it ends in San Jose on Thursday, the Rangers will continuing searching to find ways to win rather than the other way around.