A 16-game stretch in November for the Rangers, marked by continued success on the road, concluded at home with last night's 3-1 loss to the Penguins. The Rangers now have two days to regroup before December's schedule begins with a home-and-home series against the rival Islanders.
"It's going to be big points up for grabs," Brandon Dubinsky said. "We have an opportunity to get some practice time. We haven't had much with so many games and being on the road. We'll be rested and prepared. We have to avenge a tough loss earlier in the year."
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The Islanders will be feisty, although not as skilled as the Penguins, who won their seventh straight game. They received goals off odd-man rushes by Kris Letang and Chris Conner in a 1:15 span in the second period, turning a 1-0 lead into a three-goal margin.
"Every time we lost the puck in the neutral zone, they came so fast, it felt like they were cheating," Henrik Lundqvist said. "They were just so quick."
Rangers coach John Tortorella called that middle section of eight to 10 minutes "the worst part of our game. We're trying to crawl back into it, we lost our third guy in some pinches, we overcommitted and they just threw it by us. They're on a run, their goaltender has been playing very well and they're opportunistic. When they have chances to get you, they got us."
"The biggest thing is trying to get the puck in the zone and set up," Ryan Callahan said. "They pressured us and you have to give the credit, but at the same time, we have to outwork their PK."
Although the Rangers played a physical, energetic first period, the Penguins took a 1-0 lead on a mishap in front of Lundqvist. Ruslan Fedotenko gloved a shot by Pascal Dupuis and dropped it, hoping for a pass, but Marc Staal bumped him and Max Talbot pounced on the loose puck, took a stride and beat Lundqvist at 5:10.
In the second, the Rangers were caught in a line change and Sidney Crosby, who has 26 points in the last 13 games, made a backhand pass to the trailing Letang. He made it 2-0 at 12:01 of the second after Lundqvist (24 saves) had recorded some key stops.
"We have to make sure we come up and down as a five-man unit,'' Dubinsky said. "In that stretch, we didn't, and it cost us."
Gaborik, struggling with the flu that kept him out of Saturday's game in Nashville, closed the gap to two on a pass from Michal Rozsival. Gaborik whipped his fifth of the season past Marc-Andre Fleury with 3:41 left.
The Rangers (14-11-1) are 4-2-0 in the last six and have not defeated the surging Penguins (16-8-2) in the last four games at the Garden.
"Tough month," said Callahan, who noted that despite playing without Gaborik and Rozsival much of the time, the young Rangers were 9-7 and worked hard. "We have to take the positives out of it and bring it into December."