Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

The Rangers fought their way through injury after injury in December, fought to maintain their status as a legitimate playoff team as they waited for a few of their key forwards to return.

Now that they're just about healthy - only Ruslan Fedotenko, a month away after having his appendix removed, and Erik Christensen, a few days away from returning, are out - they have to show more fight than they did for the bulk of last night's 3-2 loss to the Devils.

There was plenty of blame to go around. Henrik Lundqvist was a little too deep in his net all night and surrendered three goals on 12 Devils shots before being pulled in the second.

The Dan Girardi-Marc Staal defense pair could not get much going, in their own zone or elsewhere. But the collection of forwards that needs to produce did not when it mattered. Brandon Dubinsky clanged a rebound off the crossbar in the first and Artem Anisimov missed the net from the high slot in the second; it was still 1-0 Devils then, and the Rangers could not afford to miss chances.

The Devils have revived their dead season with Jacques Lemaire behind the bench and the vaunted trapping style he perfected back in the 1990s. Last night was a collection of icings and offsides and incredibly stagnant play, just what the Devils want it to be - they are now 8-1-1 in their last 10, having finally moved out of the NHL cellar with the win.

"We knew it, too. We prepared for [the trap]," Brian Boyle said. "We have to get back to doing the things that made us successful."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The Rangers, as happened in Tuesday's 4-3 shootout loss to the depleted Penguins, were the aggressors. They were the team, both Tuesday and last night, with superior talent up front, with Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan back from injuries for the Pens and Vinny Prospal back last night.

It makes for a crowded group and John Tortorella is shifting gears. A couple weeks ago, he was trying to coax offense from some Connecticut call-ups and his overworked regulars. They ground out wins in overtime, in shootouts and in regulation with the sort of consistent work that made them a playoff contender in the first place.

This week, with more healthy bodies back, they have looked out of sync. Superb efforts at times, dominating third periods both nights, but only one point to show for it. This time of year, that's not going to get it done.

"You can't fall behind 3-0 to that team, not the way they're playing," Prospal said.

They managed a five-on-three goal, but the Rangers' power play still stalled out when the team needed a tying goal in the final six minutes. Mats Zuccarello has been installed as the first-unit power-play point man, but he hasn't demonstrated any threat to shoot. The Rangers dumped Michal Rozsival for a similar transgression and the search is still on for a real shooting threat from the point, now more via trade.

With their full complement of forwards, with the firepower of Marian Gaborik and Dubinsky and Callahan and Prospal - Fedotenko is an effective two-way wing and Christensen may not even have a spot when he's healthy - the Rangers have fallen behind to a Penguins team without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and a Devils team mired in the Eastern Conference basement all season.

They are not the hunters anymore. The Rangers are the ones who have a proven way of playing, and they've been outworked and out-disciplined by less talented teams two games in a row.

As Tortorella is fond of saying, his team is not good enough to win on talent alone. Even when it's finally at full strength.