NEW YORK -- Through stretches of Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the last-place Florida Panthers, one of the most gut-wrenching defeats this season, there were visible displays of frustration on the New York Rangers' bench -- one player shaking his head after a missed opportunity, another cursing himself for an ugly turnover.
That sense of futility was evident after the game ended, too, marked by a dejected dressing room of guys searching for answers.
Among the most flummoxed was goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who responded frankly when asked if this was the type of game the team has to win:
"Yeah, I’d say so."
"We did a lot of good things but it’s getting old," Lundqvist said. "We just have to put the puck in the net. That’s how you win games."
The Rangers outshot the Panthers 45-24 and won the puck-possession game as well -- the Panthers seemed to retreat after tallying the first two goals -- but couldn’t convert on the opportunities they created.
With a little more than a minute left in the game, the Rangers had a two-man advantage; the Panthers' Tomas Fleischmann was in the box for hooking and Lundqvist was pulled for the extra attacker. That power play ended abruptly when Tomas Kopecky sent the puck down to the other end for an empty-net goal to seal the game at 3-1.
"We need another big play at a key time," coach John Tortorella said. "And we’re not getting them consistently enough."
Against a 30th-ranked Panthers penalty kill, the Rangers went 0-for-3 on the power play; they are now 0-for-12 over the past 12 games. The Blueshirts also surrendered a power-play goal to the Panthers, as Brian Campbell opened scoring with his slap shot from the point at 8:22 of the first period.
Lundqvist said he saw neither of the first two Panthers goals and that the Rangers’ special teams cost them the game.
"Our PK, it starts with me," Lundqvist said. "[We] have to be almost at 100 percent because we’re in the position where we don’t have the luxury of a lot of goals."
The Rangers rank 28th in the league, last in the Eastern Conference, with a meager 2.27 goals per game.
Even the Panthers manage more than that (24th, 2.45), though they remain in the cellar of the league standings.
That seems to add an extra level of deflation for the Rangers, who could’ve padded their points with a win against a slumping Florida team and extended their winning streak to three games. That momentum would've been crucial heading into this weekend, when they have another opponent ripe to be beaten as the Washington Capitals enter town on Sunday.
The Rangers insist that Thursday’s mediocre start -- a worrisome pattern, for sure -- wasn’t a matter of their overlooking the downtrodden Panthers. Actually, that was a point of emphasis heading into the match.
"Oh, definitely not," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "We knew their first five, 10 minutes are really hard, they throw everything they have at us -- that was the coaches’ pre-scout there. They’ve got young guys with fresh legs, working for spots, and they’re playing hard hockey, so it doesn’t matter where they are in the standings.
"We knew that all going in," Girardi said. "We definitely didn’t take them lightly."
The Rangers’ issue may not be how they view other teams, but rather how they view themselves. A team with an uncompromising style of play and a relentless attitude last season has seemed to devolve into a club nagged by inconsistencies. Maybe even some doubt.
"I don’t think teams play great all the time, but they find ways to win," Lundqvist said. "That’s something we’re lacking a little bit."