For a team that has been characterized by resilience and consistency throughout the season, the Rangers are struggling to stabilize after a handful of up-and-down performances.
The Rangers' 4-1 loss to the Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Thursday was their third in the last five games. Not a terrible effort, but one decided by a couple mental mistakes in the third period -- what coach John Tortorella characterized as some "brain-dead reads."
"They fed it to us in the third," he said.
Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin tallied twice in a three-goal third period for the Penguins, who snapped a 1-1 draw on a pivotal sequence 2:23 into play.
A bad pinch by defenseman Marc Staal allowed Richard Park to convert on a 3-on-1 rush for the Penguins, beating Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist short-side for his fourth goal of the season and a 2-1 Pittsburgh lead.
"They made a quick play. I was going down when they were coming up and it was the wrong read," said Staal, who played a season-high of 26:02 in his ninth game back following a nine-month absence from post-concussion symptoms.
The Rangers' saving grace through the first half has been their ability to respond to adversity, and while they didn't have an answer for the Penguins on Thursday, they'll have to dig in facing a tough task this weekend.
The 29-12-4 Blueshirts travel to Boston to take on the Stanley Cup champion Bruins, who beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1 Thursday to whittle the Rangers' three-point lead in the Eastern Conference standings to one.
"Obviously we need a bounce-back game," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "I feel like we've been having to mwany of those lately, with a win and a loss and a win and a loss, but it's the same story. We need a bounce-back game and there's no better opponent."
And if the Rangers come out stale like they did in the opening minutes of Thursday's game, they'll have to pay the price.
"I think you have to be ready or they'll embarrass you,” veteran Mike Rupp said. "We can't be happy with our game tonight. It really gets you to buckle down because in a short period of time here we're playing a pretty hot team -- a very good team -- and it's a good measuring stick for us."
What makes the Bruins so good?
"They don't lack anything, I don't think. I thought that last year before the playoffs, and they're just one of those teams that when they get going they're a dangerous team," Rupp said. "They have no flaws to the way they're put together.
"It's a challenge, and it's a good one. I like the way we're built, too, so it's a good challenge."