Facing the Central Division leading Nashville Predators on the road Saturday afternoon, the Rangers put forth a gritty effort even with several key players not in the lineup, but ultimately fell short, dropping a 3-2 decision at Bridgestone Arena. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak by New York, which returns home to host the Dallas Stars 5:00 PM Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
"It was a good hockey game," stated head coach Alain Vigneault. "Both teams competed really hard, and I really liked the way we played on the road today. We really didn't give them too many opportunities, and a couple of those goals against the puck had eyes and found holes. We spent a lot of time in their end. I like the way we played, and we'll get back at it tomorrow night."
Already playing without injured No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for at least the next three weeks, the Rangers found out before the game that top-line center Derek Stepan would be unable to play against the Predators, one of the league's top teams this season, because he was suffering from flu-like symptoms.
Then in the second period New York lost the services of winger Jesper Fast who suffered a leg injury on a hit along the back boards from Nashville defenseman Anton Volchenkov and could not return to the game. Vigneault said after the game that Fast had suffered a sprained knee and the team will know more about his condition in the coming days.
To their credit the Rangers soldiered on and played an extremely strong road game against a Predators team that entered play with a terrific 20-3-1 record on home ice this season. A very strong defensive effort by the team was backstopped by Cam Talbot, who finished with 20 saves on Saturday.
"I think we played a great road game against a really good team," said Talbot. "It'll be good to go right back at it tomorrow night at home, try and forget about this one and move on."
Trailing 2-1, the Rangers pulled even early in the third period on Ryan McDonagh's fourth goal of the season. After accepting a pass from Mats Zuccarello, McDonagh danced around a defender, skated to the left circle, and zipped a shot past Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, tying the score 1:37 into the third.
The chances were limited for both sides for much of the third period, but Nashville regained the lead with 7:14 remaining in regulation when Mike Ribeiro's left wing slap shot beat Talbot, with the Rangers goaltender possibly partially screened by Seth Jones, who cruised in front right as Ribeiro fired his shot towards the net. The goal not only gave the Preds the lead, it represented the 700th career point for the veteran Ribeiro.
"I never saw it, there were two guys where the puck went through them," explained Talbot. "I saw it too late. Obviously that goal is a backbreaker."
Less than two minutes away from carrying a 1-0 lead into the second intermission, the Rangers surrendered two goals in a span of 41 seconds and instead found themselves trailing 2-1 after two periods of play. It was a stunning turn of events in a game where scoring chances were few and far between--not a surprise since the contest pitted two of the top defensive teams in the NHL with the Rangers ranked third overall coming in and the Predators right behind at fourth.
It had taken more than 31 minutes before the game's first goal was scored, and when the lamp was finally lit it was courtesy of Rick Nash who scored his league-leading 33rd to give New York a 1-0 lead. With the Rangers skating on the power play and Nash positioned in front of Rinne, his back to the Nashville goaltender, Derick Brassard made the pass down low to Nash, whose first shot was stopped by Rinne's pads. However Nash swatted the rebound into the cage at 11:49 of the second period, his fifth goal in the past four games.
"We have to find ways to win this one, especially coming back like we did in the third," stated Nash. "There aren't many positives when you lose games, but the good thing is we are right back at it tomorrow."
Unlike in the first period when the Rangers allowed Nashville a few prime scoring chances, the Rangers had blanketed the Predators for most of the second period, and so that Nash goal looked like it would hold up; but things turned suddenly on a pair of bombs that beat Talbot late in the middle stanza.
First Nashville defenseman Roman Josi wired a shot from the left circle that eluded Talbot's reach at 18:39, and then less then a minute later Josi whisked a pass from left wing to right, where Predators captain Shea Weber absolutely hammered a one-timer past Talbot with 39.1 seconds remaining in the period to put the visitors in a one-goal hole.
In the opening period Talbot had been good, and fortunate, in keeping all eight Nashville shots out of the net. Predators rookie Filip Forsberg hit the near post off a right-wing snap shot in the final minute of the opening period; and six minutes into the game former Predator Kevin Klein swiped a loose puck off the goal line during a wild scramble in the Rangers crease, with Forsberg again creating most of the havoc for the home team.
Klein was making his first return to Nashville since being traded to New York in January of 2014, and the team saluted the defenseman who played 403 games in a Predators sweater with a classy video presentation on the jumbotron during the first television timeout in the opening period. Klein stood and waved the crowd, while bathed in cheers.