By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
The effort was better than Tuesday's in Buffalo, but the result was just as disappointing for the Rangers Thursday night in Winnipeg as the Blueshirts dropped a 3-1 final to the Jets at the MTS Centre. The Rangers, who have now lost three of their last four games, slipped into ninth place in the Eastern Conference as the Jets, 4-0-1 in their last five, moved past them into eighth place.
Ondrej Pavelec made 28 saves for the Jets, and stopped a first-period penalty shot by Marian Gaborik, while Dustin Byfuglien contributed a pair of assists for Winnipeg. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 30 of 32 shots ingoal for the Rangers, including a right-pad beauty on Evander Kane's breakaway with 3:20 to play in the third and the Rangers trailing by a goal. Moments later Andrew Ladd scored into the empty-net with 38.7 seconds to play to ice the game.
Antti Miettinen's goal late in the second period snapped a 1-1 tie and sent the Rangers into the third period trailing 2-1. Miettinen camped out in front of the Rangers net and deflected Byfuglien's right point shot past Lundqvist, with the puck slowly rolling over the goal line at 14:52.
It was Byfuglien's second assist of the game---he was coming off a three-assist performance Tuesday night against the Maple Leafs---as he also earned the primary helper on Nik Antropov's power play goal just 1:58 into the game. Again it was a Byfuglien's shot through traffic that kickstarted the scoring play, with Lundqvist this time making the initial save before Antropov buried the rebound for his third goal, with Michael Del Zotto sitting in the penalty box.
It was a wobbly start for the Rangers, especially coming off Tuesday's dismal loss in Buffalo, and it grew worse before it got better. Winnipeg was outshooting the Rangers 11-3 midway through the first period, and the Rangers remained with a pulse in large part due to Lundqvist's strong play.
Then at 11:17 of the opening period the Rangers had a prime chance to tie the game when Gaborik stole the puck in the offensive end and broke in alone on Pavelec. The Jets goalie made the save, but Gaborik was awarded a penalty shot as it was deemed he was interfered with when he first broke free. But Pavelec again stopped Gaborik's slow and deliberate penalty shot attempt, and the Rangers remained in a 1-0 hole.
It was the second time in his career that Gaborik had failed to score against Pavelec on a penalty shot. Pavelec---then an Atlanta Thrasher---stopped Gaborik on February 11, 2011 down in Atlanta. Gaborik is now 2-for-8 in his career on penalty shots and 0-for-4 with the Rangers.
The Rangers righted themselves after Gaborik's opportunities, and though they still trailed 1-0 when the period ended they had taken eight of the final ten shots in the period. Perhaps more emblamatic of their play in that opening 20 minutes, however, were the ten missed shots---inclouding one by a wide-open Taylor Pyatt in the low slot---and not the 11 shots on goal they recorded.
Ryan Callahan did pull the visitors even, scoring his ninth goal of the season just 71 seconds into the second period. Callahan deflected Derek Stepan's shot past Pavelec, and from there the two teams played a competitive and even second period for the most part. Rick Nash impressed, getting his nose dirty repeatedly driving to the net sniffing for rebounds, and standing up for teammates. And Brad Richards had a glorious chance to give the Rangers a lead at 13:20, but his doorstep one-timer off a Carl Hagelin set-up was stoned by Pavelec.
On three separate occasions in that second period Rangers defensemen made big-time plays to break up 2-on-1 scoring opportunities for the Jets. First it was Ryan McDonagh laying on his stomach who blocked a pass and then fired the puck out of the zone. Then it was Roman Hamrlik hustling back to cover for Steve Eminger---whose shot was blocked at the other end. And then Eminger late in the period slid down to break-up a pass from Byfuglien in front of Lundqvist.