ST. LOUIS - There were signs of progress for the Rangers Saturday night. But not in the win column.
Missing injured Rick Nash and with only 11 forwards, the Rangers outplayed undefeated St. Louis for the first two periods of their 5-3 loss to the Blues, outshooting them 24-17. But they still trailed 4-2 entering the third period in the finale of a rough five-game western trip to open the season.
After a 9-2 rout by the Sharks and a 6-0 loss to the Ducks, "we were a different team tonight," said Brad Richards, who had eight shots and scored his fourth goal of the season. "It was a tough result. We wanted a better one. But it was night and day compared to the last two games, how we battled. Second period, against a real good team that plays well on home ice, we had the puck a lot, and that's more like our team. Best period we played all year."
Best period offensively, perhaps, but not for backup goalie Martin Biron, who should have stopped two of the three second-period goals (on five shots) in his first start of the season. He was replaced by Henrik Lundqvist at the start of the third, and the usually loquacious Biron did not speak to reporters after the game.
The performance cannot have helped Biron, 36, who is in the final year of his contract during a season in which coach Alain Vigneault "ideally" wants his backup to play about 20 times, win games and be fresh for the playoffs.
The Rangers brought former Devils backup Johan Hedberg in for a tryout at camp, but Biron, in his fourth season with the club, held on. Hedberg, 40, remains unsigned and would like to stay in the metropolitan area with his family. And the Rangers have Cam Talbot in the AHL.
Asked if he is concerned about his backup goalie's play -- Biron also surrendered five goals on 21 shots against the Sharks -- Vigneault did not provide a ringing endorsement. "I want to take a look at the tape,'' he said. "I thought for two periods we played well. Our execution was better, we had some good scoring opportunities, we didn't give up much in the second, but on three occasions, they were able to find the back of the net.''
After 20 minutes, the score was tied at 1. But David Backes beat Biron through the pads from the right circle at 5:11 of the second period for a 2-1 lead and Derek Roy, in the high slot, wristed a shot that eluded Biron at 12:44. Just 1:04 before Backes' second goal and the fourth for the Blues at 18:27, Richards had fired a rebound of a shot by a sliding Derick Brassard past Jaroslav Halak to trim the lead to 3-2.
Ryan Callahan scored his second goal of the game, battling in a scrum on a power play at 2:54 of the third. That moved the Rangers within 4-3. Enter Derek Dorsett, who, like Biron, had a forgettable night with three bad penalties. The last one opened the gate for a 5-3 lead on Vladimir Tarasenko's power-play goal with 9:24 left.
"Whether they were good calls or not," Dorsett said, "I just got to find a way to stay out of the box."
In the third, Vigneault said, "we just ran out of gas. Four games in six nights. The effort was there, the willingness was there, but the legs were having a tough time. There are some signs we're headed in the right direction.''
Added Lundqvist, who stopped 16 of 17 shots in the third: "We kept fighting back. We were close, but close doesn't get you any points."