Here come the Kings.
After the Rangers' big win over the Ducks on Sunday, they were muffled by the other Southern California team Tuesday night. The Kings looked like defending Stanley Cup champs, outplaying the Blueshirts in a 4-2 win at the Garden.
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The Rangers didn't win battles and had turnovers aplenty. They couldn't enter the offensive zone or leave the defensive zone with any consistency, And for the first time in 11 games, they couldn't hold the opponent under two goals.
Trailing 2-1 after the second period in a game in which the Kings owned the puck, the Blueshirts couldn't keep the margin to one.
Dan Boyle couldn't clear the Rangers zone, and Jeff Carter sneaked behind everyone to end up untouched in front to deflect Dwight King's pass past Cam Talbot at 1:05 of the third period. Then, at 5:28, it was pretty much over when Jake Muzzin ripped a shot over Talbot's glove for a 4-1 lead. The Rangers hadn't allowed four goals since losing in Philadelphia, 4-2, on Feb. 28.
"They came out ready to play. They had a lot on the line," said Talbot, who stopped 31 of the 35 shots he faced. "They were tough to slow down. They just seemed to be finding the space in our zone."
With 3:44 left in regulation, Kevin Hayes fired a shot from the high slot between the circles that hit Mike Richards and bounced past Jonathan Quick. It was the rookie's 14th of the season and cut the lead to 4-2, but the score wasn't indicative of the way the Kings -- battling for a final playoff spot in the Western Conference -- dominated.
For the Rangers (46-19-7, 99 points), the start was promising. On the first rush into the Kings zone, J.T. Miller won a battle at the end boards and skated by the right post, drawing Quick (34 saves) over. He found Mats Zuccarello, who zipped a shot top shelf for a 1-0 lead at 51 seconds. The Rangers were 35-5-3 when they had scored the first goal.
But the Kings, in danger of becoming the first defending Stanley Cup champion since the Hurricanes in 2007 to miss the postseason the following year, had the better of the play for the rest of the period, outshooting the Blueshirts 17-12. Dan Girardi saved at least one goal, stopping former Ranger Marian Gaborik from shoving in a loose puck in front, and broke up two odd-man rushes.
"We had a good chance to take a little life out of their playoff hopes but they came out with a great effort and they were very desperate," Girardi said. "They're playing for their lives a little bit. It would have been nice to have a better effort."
Talbot made a superb pad save on Trevor Lewis' point-blank shot at 9:37, but Robin Regehr's soft shot went in at 10:38. After Talbot lost the puck, Gaborik's chip shot made it 2-1 at 4:35.
The Rangers, who need a combination of four points gained by them or lost by the Bruins to clinch a playoff berth, will practice Wednesday and then fly to Ottawa for Thursday's game. They are six points ahead of the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.
"It's really difficult to win hockey games, especially down the stretch when teams are fighting to get into the playoffs. You have to be ready to compete at a high level, and tonight we had a lot of things go wrong for us," Derek Stepan said. "It's frustrating. We just didn't have it tonight.''