With the Stanley Cup Playoffs two weeks away, the Rangers know that each and every point earned in the standings is incredibly important. As such, while their 3-2 shootout loss in Colorado on Thursday night was certainly a frustrating way for the Rangers to close out their four-game road trip out west, they did still earn another point and are now four ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Rangers earned five of a possible eight points on this road trip through Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Colorado, posting a 2-1-1 record. They are now 7-1-1 in their last nine games overall and 8-2-1 in their last 11.
"It was a good road trip, we played really well in a lot of games and got some big points," offered goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was terrific between the pipes stopping 35 of 37 shots through 65 minutes of play before the shootout. "I like the way we battled."
The Rangers surrendered a late lead in the third period and then were shut out in the shootout by Semyon Varlamov, certainly causing frustration in the visitors' postgame dressing room. Tyson Barrie, who scored the game-tying goal, also scored the only goal for the Avalanche in the shootout. Mats Zuccarello, Marty St. Louis, and Brad Richards all were denied by Varlamov--who made 29 saves in the game--during the shootout.
After the Rangers had iced the puck with a minute to play in regulation while holding a 2-1 lead, the Avalanche tied it and forced overtime on a Barrie goal with 51.4 seconds left. The Rangers failed to clear the puck out of their zone after a scramble in front of their own goal, and Barrie wristed a low shot into the cage for his 11th of the season.
"I definitely would have preferred two (points)," stated head coach Alain Vigneault. "We were in a position to win this game, had a faceoff in our own end, win the draw, had two opportunities to get it out, and didn't get it out. They tie it up and then win in a shootout. We come out of this with five points on a pretty tough trip, so we take the five points and go home."
The two teams played a wild back-and-forth overtime period, each recording five shots on goal, and each coming close several times to winning the game. Lundqvist was under siege early in the overtime period after facing 16 Avalanche shots in the third period, when New York was on its heels and outshot 16-3.
"In the third period you have to expect them to come hard, that's a really good team over there," Lundqvist said of a Colorado team which now has 49 wins and 104 points on the season. "We worked really hard to get the two points tonight, and I thought we did a lot of really good things. We were close."
Playing without their leading scorer among defensemen, Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers did receive a goal and a pair of assists from their defense corps while skating to a 2-1 lead through two periods of play. As for McDonagh, he updated reporters during the game on his injury status, giving a positive outlook that he should be able to return to the lineup before the playoffs arrive in two weeks, and that he was relieved there was no structural damage to the shoulder that was hurt in Tuesday's 3-1 win in Vancouver.
John Moore, who returned to the lineup Thursday following a six-game injury absence of his own, scored on his first shift of the game just 2:10 into the first period to give New York an early 1-0 lead. After accepting a pass from Zuccarello on left wing, Moore skated a bit to his right and then unleashed a low, hard slap shot which beat Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov cleanly--Moore's fourth goal of the season.
On the scoring play Benoit Pouliot also picked up an assist, his 20th of the season and his 33rd point, establishing new career highs in both categories.
Colorado tied the game, 1-1, at the 5:57 mark of the second period when Andre Benoit roofed his seventh goal off a 2-on-1 feed from former Ranger John Mitchell. The Rangers picked up their play after the Avalanche pulled even and Varlamov was put to the test--with the visitors eventually recording 15 shots in the period.
One of those shots finally beat Varlamov when Derek Stepan buried a left wing snap shot off the rush--roofing one over Varlamov's glove--with 4:30 to play in the second, giving New York a 2-1 lead. Stepan's 16th goal of the season was assisted by a pair of defensemen--Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi--as the Rangers d-men picked up the slack for the injured McDonagh at both ends of the ice all night long.
"I thought our D was good for the most part," offered Vigneault. "After two periods we were in real good shape, so I thought our defense handled the minutes and the situation well."
Marc Staal, who played a team high 28:04 with McDonagh sidelined, added, "Mac obviously has been a great player for us, but I think as a unit we did a pretty good job of finding our roles when we were on the ice."
Varlamov, who played a strong game throughout, made a pair of big-time saves on Brian Boyle from in-tight with the Avalanche skating on a power play early in the third period. Lundqvist returned the favor at the other end stopping all four shots while Dominic Moore was in the penalty box, and the Rangers finished the night a perfect four-for-four on the penalty kill.
Colorado was just as good on the penalty kill Thursday night, blanking the Rangers power play on all five of their chances. Still the Rangers were less than a minute away from a huge victory that in the end was not meant to be.
"Obviously when we are up in the last minute, we want to make sure we get that win and get those two points, but we're going to take that one point against one of the top teams in the west and the last game of a road trip," noted Girardi, who logged 27:21 worth of ice time.
The Rangers will travel home on Friday and then will host the Ottawa Senators Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.