With only one point needed to clinch a playoff berth, the New York Rangers failed to secure their postseason spot with an 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators in their first game back at Madison Square Garden following a four-game road trip out west.
The Rangers rallied back from a two-goal deficit to pull within a goal of a desperate and feisty Senators squad, but the spirited comeback effort wasn't enough to cement their spot among the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
Similar to Tuesday's game in Vancouver, things got nasty late in the game when Ottawa's Chris Neil crushes Rangers defenseman Marc Staal into the boards with 2:47 to play. Staal went after Neil and a nasty skirmish ensued, which ultimately put the Rangers down a man in the final minutes of the game.
Saturday was also a sobering reminder for the Rangers just how gaping of a hole defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s absence creates. The stud 24-year-old, sidelined with a shoulder injury suffered last Tuesday in a game against the Vancouver Canucks, has proven to be utterly irreplaceable on the blue line, where he averaged almost 25 minutes a game and provides the team a much-needed shutdown presence. Saturday night, the Rangers’ defensive zone coverage was spotty and exposed, particularly in the first period.
According to the team McDonagh’s injury is not serious and simply a “day-to-day” ailment. McDonagh, too, sounded optimistic about his availability for the playoffs.
Boy, the Rangers really have to hope that is true. Because heading into the postseason, it looks like they will need him to survive the first round.
Cool Hand Zuke: The Hobbit strikes again. With the Rangers trailing by two goals heading into the second period, diminutive winger Mats Zuccarello tallied twice to pull the Blueshirts within a goal heading into the final 20 minutes of play. Zuccarello, enjoying his finest NHL season to date, parked himself in front of Senators goaltender Robin Lehner to tip both shots past. Both of Zuccarello’s goals originated from the team’s depleted blue line. First John Moore unleashed a blast, then Marc Staal followed suit later in the period as both players picked up primary assists on their respective plays. Without McDonagh’s offensive acumen -- he leads all defensemen with 14 goals and 43 points -- the Rangers will need this sort of contribution from the blue line to continue.
Boo birds: Just because this was the team’s first game back at MSG since March 26, fans weren’t cutting it any slack after a poor performance in the first 20 minutes of play. The Blueshirts were ushered off the ice with boos after a first period that left them down in a 2-0 hole. Both goals featured defensive lapses with Ottawa’s first goal scored off an odd-man rush, and the second one following a defensive-zone faceoff loss for New York. Now, granted the absence of McDonagh is a significant one, but the Rangers can’t use that as an excuse for breaking down and missing coverage in their own end.