The Rangers fell short in Anaheim on Sunday night, losing to the Ducks 6-3 and delaying their chance to clinch a playoff spot by at least one more day. Henrik Lundqvist reassumed his customary starting goaltender spot after an eight game absence, and some rust was certainly evident. Though none of the goals were directly the fault of The King, he was victimized by some big rebounds and traffic in his crease, allowing five goals on 33 shots.
There was some news before the game even started that caused a stir. Dan Girardi was scratched from the lineup, as Alain Vigneault shocked the masses and benched the veteran in favor of Kevin Klein. More notable than the move itself was Vigneault’s reasoning, as he cited Girardi’s sub-par performance – not his injury – as the primary reason for the decision. Regardless, Klein didn’t exactly acquit himself well (though he too just returned from a long layoff) and wasn’t helped by a rare off-night from captain Ryan McDonagh.
Despite a strong start to the game, the Rangers went into the first intermission tied 2-2, though they probably deserved better.
Rick Nash opened the scoring, finishing a 2-on-1 by taking it himself and beating Jonathan Bernier through the five-hole. The goal was Nash’s fourth in his last four games. Patrick Eaves then scored his first of two goals on the night to tie the score, slamming home a rebound just three minutes later.
The highlight of the night may have been when Derek Stepan finished a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe passing play from Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello for his second goal in as many games. It was arguably the Rangers’ prettiest play of the season, but it was unfortunately erased by Ryan Kesler’s power play goal with two minutes remaining in the first.
Special teams continued to trouble the Rangers, as they conceded a shorthanded goal by Josh Manson after Mika Zibanejad tried a behind-the-back pass to the point, leading to a Ducks counterattack. However, Zibanejad atoned for his error, making an incredible play to knock Sami Vatanen’s cross-ice pass out of midair in the neutral zone and set up the game-tying goal. Zibanejad fed Jimmy Vesey who set up Brady Skjei for a blistering one-timer that Jonathan Bernier had no chance to stop.
The third period was dominated by the Ducks, as the Rangers did not record a shot on goal until several minutes in. Two quick-strike goals – by Andrew Cogliano and Eaves just 2:04 apart – put this one out of reach. The Rangers mounted a comeback but couldn’t beat Bernier again, as Nick Ritchie’s empty-net goal provided the final margin.
After beating the LA Kings on Saturday despite being out-shot and out-chanced, the Rangers could not replicate that success in Anaheim. While the final stats appear to show a relatively even battle, the Rangers were outplayed for large stretches of the second and third periods, only generating any consistent offense after the Ducks took a two goal lead.
The Rangers did not get enough good performances from their top players in this game, as Ryan McDonagh fought the puck all night, and the JT Miller-Kevin Hayes-Michael Grabner trio was repeatedly burned by Ryan Getzlaf (four assists in the game!) and his linemates. Alain Vigneault stuck with this matchup throughout the night, even though it was clear an adjustment should have been made.
Blueshirts fans will now turn their attention to Barclays Center. An Islanders regulation loss to the Nashville Predators tonight will put the Rangers in the playoffs. If that doesn’t happen, the Rangers will have their next chance to clinch a playoff spot on Tuesday night in San Jose.