NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, December 17, 2015, 10:46 PM
Minnesota scores times en route to a one-sided win over the Rangers.
ST. PAUL – The Rangers wanted this game desperately, but their performance hasn’t matched their will this season, and so the result was yet another numbing loss, 5-2, to the Minnesota Wild.
Henrik Lundqvist replaced Antti Raanta in net after the backup goalie left injured 11:49 into the first period, and diligent veteran center Dominic Moore scored a huge goal with 8.9 seconds to go in the second and narrow Minnesota’s lead to 2-1.
But the Blueshirts got absolutely nothing from Derick Brassard’s top line. They mixed in turnovers and coverage mistakes with strong shifts, and a penalty by rookie Brady Skjei, 21 – who struggled in his second career NHL game – led to the Jason Pominville goal 9:38 into the third period that sent the Rangers’ runaway train veering completely off the rails.
The Wild (17-7-6, 40 points), scored three goals in the third and improved to 6-0-3 in their last nine. That pushed the Rangers (19-10-4, 42 points) to a paltry 3-7-2 in their last 12 games. Alain Vigneault’s team, which owned the NHL on the road the previous two seasons, is now just 6-6-3 away from the Garden this season, including 0-4-2 in their last six.
Lundqvist has not been able to save his teammates from frequent losses lately after a stellar start to the year. And now Thursday night was another collapse from the King in net, to mirror his team’s lapses, similar to last week’s 7-5 debacle in Edmonton.
The King insisted to the Daily News Thursday morning that he and the Blueshirts would not yield in the face of adversity, but it has to be exceedingly challenging to think positively when even fairly committed efforts spiral out of control.
“It’s important that you don’t accept losing, to have that mentality,” Lundqvist said at his locker inside Xcel Energy Center. “Teams that have had success the last several years, they don’t accept losing. It’s important to have that high level and those expectations as a group. That’s how you become a good team.”
In that vein, Lundqvist nodded in affirmation when told about teammate Mats Zuccarello’s vented frustrations to the Daily News after last Saturday night’s 5-4 OT loss in Calgary. The Norwegian had growled, after the Blueshirts had slipped to 2-6-2 in an alarmingly bad 10-game stretch, that the Rangers “don’t help each other out,” are “too soft,” and need to “look ourselves in the mirror.”
“Well if you accept a bad performance, that’s how you end up in a bad place,” Lundqvist said. “You can’t accept it. That’s what you need, and that’s what I like about us: We have high expectations, and that makes you raise your own level, too, to match that.”
If the Rangers are going to correct their season’s course, they are going to do it on the backs of their leaders.
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh checks Zach Parise during Thursday’s loss to the Wild.
Captain Ryan McDonagh and his wife, Kaylee, did their part by hosting teammates for dinner in McDonagh’s home city Wednesday night. Then Lundqvist did his part by sharing perspective on his team’s state of mind in a mini-State of the Union from the desk of the King.
“It’s important not to just expect good things to happen all the time,” said the Rangers’ franchise goaltender, who will be back in net Friday night in Winnipeg. “You have to earn it. You have to do things the right way to have success, and you have to push each other to get there all the time. Winning is not a guarantee.”
Lundqvist even examined his own shortcomings in the Blueshirts’ recent downturn, acknowledging the reality that he has not played his best even if he’s had plenty of company.
The King started the season 10-2-2 through 14 starts as an early Hart Trophy frontrunner for MVP, surrendering a high of three goals against only twice. Since, Lundqvist is 5-5-1 in his last 10 games. He has been benched twice, surrendered four goals on two occasions and given up five in three other outings.
The Rangers’ puck management is primarily to blame, but their goalie isn’t bailing them out as often, either.
“The first month or so I felt really good,” Lundqvist said. “But reacting to the game in front of you sometimes can make you do too much. So there are definitely some things I can improve. For a goalie, you can do good things, but sometimes if you make one mistake, that one mistake can make you go from feeling really good to just … good.”
Lundqvist got that winning feeling back briefly when he made 18 saves in Tuesday night’s 4-2 home win over Edmonton. Now, he said, “I think it’s really one mistake each game I have to clean up. Early on I was minimizing mistakes. Obviously, it’s easy to feel really good then.”
That is the challenge for the Rangers, to feel good and confident when times are this tough.
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