ANAHEIM -- The Rangers' tenuous grasp on a playoff spot loosened a bit more Wednesday night with a 5-2 meltdown at the hands of the Ducks, a costly loss during which breakdowns dominated and the effort that has carried the club most of the season just wasn't there.
"It's a tough way to play at this time of year,'' coach John Tortorella said. "We had some passengers, we had some guys who were testing the water.''
What was missing? "Everything,'' he said.
"When you allow them to play at 140 feet, when you turn the puck over and don't do the things away from the puck, they're going to hurt you,'' Tortorella said.
With 13 games to play, the Rangers (35-30-4, 74 points) are barely ahead of eighth-place Buffalo and Carolina, with 72 points each. But the Sabres have played three fewer games, the Hurricanes two.
"We didn't work hard enough,'' said Ryan Callahan, an uncharacteristic minus-4. "They rely on their transition game and we didn't get the job done tonight. It's bad bounces, but your effort and the way you work creates bounces. we have to be stronger this time of the year. We have to come out with a little more desperation.''
Brandon Dubinsky opened the scoring at Honda Center with his 20th of the season at 3:30 of the first period off an odd-man rush. As Callahan skated down the left side, defenseman Cam Fowler drifted away from the right side to pick up Artem Anisimov in the middle and the trailing Dubinsky was left alone to cruise in from the right and beat Dan Ellis. Nothing went right for the Rangers after that.
The Ducks responded, scoring twice in 1:45. Deep on the right side, Perry recovered his sharp-angle wrister that hit just outside the post and backhanded a pass in front that glanced off Dan Girardi, watching by the far post at 7:34.
At 9:19, defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky's seeing-eye knuckleball from the right point went though Perry's screen and past Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers killed Girardi's hooking penalty at 11:23, and managed just one shot when Bobby Ryan went to the box for hooking at 15:22. Then Visnovsky wound up for another, closer shot from the right side that deflected off Anisimov's stick, rose and hit Lundqvist's left shoulder and bounced past him with 40.9 seconds remaining in the period for a two-goal cushion.
"It doesn't matter if it goes off 10 sticks, the effort has to be there, we've got to go to work, have a hard practice and get out minds straight here,'' Girardi said.
The backbreaker though, came early in the third period. With the Rangers still trailing 3-1 after a scoreless second, Ellis dove desperately to his right to get his stick on Dubinsky's wide-open shot from the left slot and the Ducks raced down on a two-on-one. Perry, on the right flank, fed a pass across to Ryan, who whipped a shot past Lundqvist at 2:19 for a 4-1 lead.
"Instead of it being a one-goal game, it's a three-goal game. It deflated us a bit right there,'' Callahan said.
"Big turning point,'' Lundqvist said. "Obviously I want to come up with the save there, I didn't. Skill players, when you given them time and space . . . "
Marian Gaborik, on assists from Vinny Prospal and Derek Stepan, scored with four seconds left on a power play at 5:31 to trim the lead to 4-2, but it was too little, too late as Ryan found Perry, posted in front at 14:36, for his 33rd of the year. In short, the Ducks' stars outshone the Rangers'.
"Their first line dominated our team and made it really tough for us,'' Lundqvist said. "We gave away the puck the whole night and they're sharp, they're really skilled. There's no excuse. We have to be better.''
The Rangers, who had won two straight before heading west on this trip that concludes Saturday in San Jose, had several chances in the second half of the second period but could not corral a rebound or get a deflection past Ellis. Through 40 minutes, the Rangers had zero shots from Gaborik, Prospal, Stepan and Mats Zuccarello.
Lundqvist stopped all 13 shots that he saw in that period, including one from Visnovsky, bidding for his second hat trick in a week. With Anisimov off for elbowing Toni Lydman at 11:12, the Ducks turned up the pressure. One doorstep opportunity was blocked by Marc Staal, and Lundqvist stopped several others.
The Rangers, who had two days off to prepare for the Ducks game, have two more to get ready for the Sharks and yet another critical matchup on Saturday.