NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Henrik Lundqvist can do only so much to help the New York Rangers.
The star goalie is playing well, yet his margin of error is getting slimmer every night as the Broadway Blueshirts look to find the offense that has suddenly left them.
During a recent surge that began in early December, the Rangers won 13 of 14 and scored at least three goals in 11 of those games, and four or more seven times. That spurt ended with consecutive shutout losses to the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins.
But the defending Eastern Conference champion Rangers (27-15-4) seemed to find their scoring punch again in winning three straight before the All-Star break — netting a total of 10 goals in victories over Columbus, Pittsburgh and Ottawa. The seven-day shutdown has dropped the Rangers back into a funk again.
They were beaten 4-1 by the Islanders on Tuesday in their return, managing their only goal with 8.1 seconds left when the outcome had already been decided. Then they dropped a tough 1-0 defeat at home to Montreal when Lundqvist’s only blemish came when Max Pacioretty’s 50-foot shot got between him and the right post with 4:17 remaining on Thursday night.
A soft goal, by his admission, proved to be the difference.
“I felt like I did a lot of good things,” said Lundqvist, who banged his stick on the ice in anger as he skated off. “I won’t remember the first, second or third period. I’ll only remember the last four minutes, and that’s the life of a goalie.
“You make a mistake like that and you pay for it sometimes.”
Lundqvist made 25 saves during the goalie duel with Montreal’s Carey Price, but the one hiccup prevented the Rangers from salvaging even one standings point.
The Rangers finished Thursday ranked fourth in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.33) and tied for first in fewest goals given up (107). New York has yielded two goals or fewer in 15 or their last 20 games and 19 of 28.
Lundqvist, 7-3 in his last 10 outings with a 1.86 goals-against average and .940 save percentage, blamed himself for the Montreal loss, but offered suggestions to jump-start the slumping offense.
“We are doing a lot of good things, but we can try to get more traffic in front of the goalies and make it a little tougher for them,” he said. “We are working really hard and we are not far off. We need a couple bounces here or there and it will be a different story.
“We aren’t going to overthink it, just get ready for the next one and really try to come back with a win here on Saturday.”
That will be the second game of a four-game homestand when the Carolina Hurricanes visit Madison Square Garden. It doesn’t get easier after that, as Florida — which trails the Rangers by six points in the Eastern Conference — and Boston, which has a one-point lead over New York, come to town.
“Carolina has been pretty good of late,” said Martin St. Louis, second on the team to Rick Nash in goals and points. “There is no easy game in this league, and we just have to bounce back.”
St. Louis was talking about the team as a whole, but he dipped, as well. After scoring a goal in each of the Rangers’ last two games of a successful West Coast trip, he has gone seven games without a goal.
Nash, the Rangers’ lone All-Star with 28 goals in his club’s 46 games, has been held without one in six of seven games, but he tallied two at Pittsburgh on Jan. 18.
The story is the same throughout the lineup.
Mats Zuccarello has gone nine games without a goal, Derek Stepan also scored twice in the 5-2 win at Pittsburgh but has no goals in 11 other games since a hat trick in New York’s 3-1 victory against New Jersey on Dec. 27. Derick Brassard has just one goal in nine games.
“We just have to fight through those adversities,” Zuccarello said. “We created enough chances to win the (Montreal) game for sure, and they got a lucky goal at the end, so brush this one off. It’s an important game coming up on Saturday.”
Even when the Rangers were piling up wins in December, they lamented that they weren’t gaining much ground in the playoff race or creating much space between them and the teams chasing them.
They entered Friday one point behind third-place Washington in the tight Metropolitan Division, four behind Pittsburgh, and seven in back of the Islanders. Those teams have all played two more games than the Rangers.
The top three teams in each division get playoff spots, and the next two teams in the conference earn wild cards. So the road back to the Stanley Cup finals could be rocky for the Rangers with 36 games remaining. New York is currently in the second wild-card position.
“We stood tall at home against these guys,” Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said of the Canadiens. “It was a matter of who was going to get one and hold the lead.
“It just wasn’t our night.”
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