CHICAGO — It all unraveled quite quickly Wednesday night for the Rangers, who through 39 minutes were holding a one-goal lead as Henrik Lundqvist withstood a second-period siege.
Suddenly the improved structure that had pulled the Rangers out of their early-season pit of misery, keyed them to six straight wins and was even present against the Blackhawks in the first period started to fracture. So badly that Henrik Lundqvist was pulled in the third period of the Rangers’ 6-3 loss after he was stellar through two periods.
“We weren’t defending at all,” Alain Vigneault said of his decision to replace Lundqvist with Ondrej Pavelec at 6:28 of the third after Chicago scored three goals in the first 5:14 of the period to take a 4-1 lead.
The Rangers (9-8-2) were outshot 34-17 over the final two periods. Lundqvist was turning away everything in sight in a hectic second until an Alex DeBrincat shot, which Lundqvist said he saw late, trickled through his legs and rolled over the goal line with 51.6 seconds left in the period, tying the game at 1 apiece.
Two Blackhawks goals in a 46-second span within the first 1:53 of the third stunned the Rangers after they opened the period with a strong first shift. “After that it seemed like they came at us in waves,” said Rick Nash, whose goal at 11:56 of the third cut the Blueshirts’ deficit to 4-3 before ex-Ranger Artem Anisimov finished his hat trick with 3:48 left.
NHenrik Lundqvist was pulled after allowing four goals.
(Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
Anisimov’s first happened after Ryan McDonagh had the puck stolen in the corner by Patrick Kane and Anisimov was left open cutting to goal. His second, a power-play goal, came on a third-chance jam at the top of the crease. John Hayden’s goal to make it 3-1 came when Kevin Shattenkirk was caught puck watching and was then beaten to a loose puck in the slot.
Lundqvist, who stopped Chicago’s first 25 shots, wasn’t surprised when he got pulled after some poor defensive play in front of his net.
“To be honest, the way we started the third, it was not a fun feeling to be out there,” he said.
The empty-net-aided six goals were the second-most the Rangers allowed this season behind the eight they gave up in Toronto during the second game of the season. The Marc Staal-Steven Kampfer pair finished with 5-on-5 shot-attempts percentages of 30.56 and 28.57, respectively.
Lance Bouma reacts after the Blackhawks scored against the Rangers.
(Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
“We got what we deserved tonight,” Vigneault said.
Now with a period of success to fall back on after their ugly start to the year, all eyes turn to how the Rangers will respond during Friday’s game in Columbus.
“We’re not in a great spot or in a playoff position even, so you have to prepare the best way possible,” Lundqvist said. “You gain confidence from winning, no question about that, but you should have the same mindset if you’re 6-0 or now 0-1. It won’t change.”