Thursday night at Madison Square Garden the Rangers played their final indoor game for a week, and even though Rick Nash scored for the tenth time in the past ten contests the Blueshirts could not come away with a much-needed victory, falling instead to the St. Louis Blues, 2-1.
With the score tied 1-1 early in the third period St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk blasted a power play goal through a maze of players in front of Henrik Lundqvist at 3:09, just nine seconds after Nash was penalized for slashing Shattenkirk. The goal was a special one for the 24 year-old Shattenkirk as it not only gave the Blues a 2-1 lead, it also came in the New Rochelle native's first ever game at The Garden.
The Rangers had a third-period power play of their own when Barrett Jackman cross-checked Mats Zuccarello with 7:29 remaining, but the Blues thwarted New York at every turn and the Rangers found themselves still chasing a goal when the power play ended two minutes later. The Blueshirts were also stymied on a power play which bridged the second and third periods, and they finished 0-for-three with the man advantage on Thursday night.
After the game Brad Richards said, "for the first time in a long time I can say that our power play let us down."
Lundqvist, who missed Tuesday's loss to the Islanders because of an illness, was sharp between the pipes for the Rangers, stopping 23 of 25 shots. However Jaroslav Halak allowed only one goal on 35 shots at the other end of the ice, and as a result the Rangers lost consecutive games for the first time since December 8-12, when they lost three straight. Despite the defeat Lundqvist has now gone seven consecutive games with allowing two goals or fewer.
After a slow start to the game, the Rangers came alive and were progressively better during a 16-shot second period, eventually tying the game, 1-1, on Nash's team-leading 17th goal shortly before the second intermission arrived. Ryan McDonagh forced the issue playing in deep behind the Blues net from his defense position, keeping the puck alive for Derek Stepan who zipped a quick pass to Nash in the left circle. The red-hot Nash wasted not a second in wiring a one-timer from the dot past Halak far side with just 1:43 to play in the middle stanza.
The goal was a just reward for Nash, the best Ranger in the offensive zone all night long, finishing with a game high seven shots on goal. He had been robbed midway through the second period by a sprawling Halak after a short pass from Chris Kreider, created chances from the dirty areas around the Blues crease as well as from the outer wings, and also controlled the puck and bulled his way to the net for two chances with the Rangers in the latter stages of killing off an Anton Stralman penalty three minutes before he finally did score against Halak.
The Rangers had the puck much more than the Blues did in that second period, though St. Louis still did a good job of taking the body, getting in the way of potential Rangers shots, and disrupting the home team's flow on rushes up ice. To the Rangers credit their battle level raised as the game wore on and they were able to work the puck in deep much more often against a stout Blues defense.
In the opening period it was St. Louis that controlled the puck for longer stretches and who imposed their will more consistently. The Rangers were able to outshoot the Blues 11-9 in the opening period of play, but the Blues had the better of the play and scored the only goal of the period, as well.
Alexander Steen--in the midst of a career year--went hard to the net and had a Jaden Schwartz pass deflect off him, past Lundqvist, and just over the goal line 8:38 into the first period to put New York in a 1-0 hole. The goal--Steen's career-high 26th of the season--stood up after a video review to see if he had kicked it into the net.
Later in the game Steen absorbed a hard hit from Dan Girardi, and at the start of the third period the Blues announced that Steen was done for the night due to a lower body injury.
Both the Rangers and the Blues played a much tighter game defensively then each had in their previous respective contests. The Rangers were far more diligent in protecting their own end than during Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Islanders, while the Blues looked much more like the Stanley Cup contenders they have been all season as opposed to the team that was thumped 7-1 in New Jersey 48 hours prior to this game.
Defenseman Kevin Klein made his Rangers debut one day after being acquired from Nashville in a trade for Michael Del Zotto. Wearing uniform No. 8, Klein hopped on the ice for his first shift wearing the Blueshirt 2:13 into the contest, and played a smart dependable defensive game while paired with John Moore.
"He was safe and dependable--what I expected," head coach Alain Vigneault said of Klein, who logged 15:46, and was credited with two blocked shots and one shot on goal.
The Rangers will now take their game outdoors for a pair of Stadium Series contests at Yankee Stadium, the first of which comes Sunday afternoon against the Devils. That contest will be followed by Wednesday night's game against the Islanders at The House That Ruth Built.