Rangers lose momentum in playoff hunt

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist didn't have his best stuff in front of the net against the Flyers. Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA -- There really wasn’t much to say in the moments after the New York Rangers’ 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Coach John Tortorella, faced with only one postgame question, said the Rangers doubled up the Flyers in chances but couldn’t solve netminder Steve Mason.

But, of course, it went beyond that.

Time is winding down on what has been a disappointing season, and the Rangers are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs one season after finishing with the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference.

Lacking the type of desperation you’d expect from a team fighting for the eighth and last spot in the East, the Rangers fell behind to the 12th-place Flyers early in the game and never fully recovered.

“No excuses,” defenseman Dan Girardi said. “We should’ve been, right from the start, all over them.”

Instead, the Blueshirts let the Flyers set the tone while playing their second game in a back-to-back set that began with a 7-3 rout of Montreal on Monday night.

Both Brayden Schenn and Erik Gustafsson notched goals to take a 2-0 lead in the first period, and while the Rangers cut the lead to one goal twice during the course of the game, they could not continue their dominance over their division rivals.

Heading into Tuesday night’s game, the Rangers had won 11 of the previous 12 games against the Flyers, dating back to March 6, 2011.

The loss wasn’t made any easier by action around the league, either. Teams both ahead and behind the Rangers gained traction in the standings. The seventh-place Islanders won to pull three points ahead; Ottawa edged Carolina 3-2 for a four-point lead in sixth. Perhaps most worrisome for the Rangers was that Winnipeg matched the Rangers’ 46 points with a shootout victory over Tampa Bay.

The Rangers still retain the eighth spot in the East with a tie-breaker over the Jets -- New York has a game in hand -- but Winnipeg is chipping away with less than two weeks before the end of the regular season.

You’d think the Rangers would feel antsy by the movement all around them, but it didn’t appear to register. At least to start the game.

Is the desperation there?

“It is at times,” captain Ryan Callahan said. “Consistently, I don’t think it’s there. In the third period I thought we showed that; I thought we controlled most of the third period. If we bring that for the full 60 [minutes] I think we have a better result.”

The Rangers didn’t roll over by any means and for that there is still reason to believe this remains a playoff team.

Mats Zuccarello split the deficit in half in the second period with his first goal since rejoining the Rangers after spending most of this season overseas with the Kontinental Hockey League. Derek Stepan then whittled the lead to one goal, 3-2, in the third period with his 15th of the season. It was the 22-year-old center’s 18th point in 17 career games against the Flyers.

However, Philly outlasted the Rangers’ surge, much in part to their addition in net, Steve Mason. Mason, acquired at the trade deadline earlier this month, turned away 38 of 40 shots faced, 17 of which came in the final frame.

Before Tuesday night’s game, it had been Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stealing the show. That was difficult for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner on Tuesday, as the team was set back on its heels early.

The Rangers didn’t play that badly. But they didn’t perform like a playoff team, either.

“Every night is a big game now,” Lundqvist said. “We don’t have much [time] left. We have to approach every game like it’s our last game of the season. Every point now can be the difference in or out so we have to really put in everything we’ve got.”