If the Rangers fail to make the playoffs for the first time since the lockout, they may look back on this St. Patrick's Eve game as a huge turning point.


                          Their aimless 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden, coupled with the eighth-place Bruins' 5-2 defeat of the Hurricanes, pushed them deeper into ninth place in the East, three points back of the Bruins, who have a game in hand.

                          The quick, speedy Canadiens took away time and space and the Rangers (31-30-9) managed just 20 shots on goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Rangers coach John Tortorella counted five or six scoring chances. "We turned the puck over," he said, "then we just chased them around."

                          With a dozen games left in the season, the Rangers will have to do much more chasing. "We definitely don't want this to be the end of the year," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 32 saves, including 18 in the second period to keep the score tied at 1. "If we want to keep playing, we have to raise our level and play our best hockey down the stretch." 

                           With 74 points, the Bruins host the Rangers, with 71, in a showdown matinee at TDBanknorth Garden on Sunday.

                        At 31-30-9, the Rangers have drifted between 9th and 11th place in the Eastern Conference for the last 13 games. 

                        The winning goal came at 5:59 of the third, when in a scramble, a loose puck fired in front by Sergei Kostitsyn kicked off the skate of Artem Anisimov and past Lundqvist, who was standing at the left post. 

                      With 54 seconds remaining, the Rangers had their fifth power play, with Benoit Pouliot in the box and Lundqvist pulled. But with just four skaters, Tomas Plekanec went around Michael Del Zotto at the blue line and hit the empty cage. "In a game like this, you could be 0-for-7 but if you come up with a big power play goal in the third period, all's forgiven," said Tortorella. "We had a six on four, we can't even win a battle."                                             

                       Trailing 1-0 in the second after Glen Metropolit's power play tally in the first, Matt Gilroy’s low slapper from the point banged off the leg of Sean Avery, who was battling with Hal Gill in front of Halak,  to tie the score at 1 at 2:12. Since his benching against Atlanta, Avery has three goals in two games. But he also snapped with seven seconds to play, receiving 17 minutes in  penalties, including a game misconduct.            

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With Anisimov in the box for hooking at 8:10 of the second, Brandon Dubinsky sped down the middle but lost the puck trying to stickhandle in front of Halak.  It was symptomatic of the loose play of the Rangers, who produced just six shots and 11 after 40 minutes.
"We didn't spend a lot of time in their end," said Erik Christensen. "They blocked a lot of pucks at the blue line and came back real fast. Once they had the lead, they were chipping the puck back and making us regroup."
                      Starting in the first, i
t was turnover city for the Rangers, repeatedly losing pucks on rushes, and once the Canadiens took the lead, they squeezed the Blueshirts. "We weren't on the body as much as we should have been," said Chris Drury. "They kind of lulled us to sleep in the neutral zone and just trapped us to death all night."      

                      And death don't have no mercy.     

                      The Rangers big guns were silent. Marian Gaborik, one shot in 21 minutes. Olli Jokinen, scoreless in nine games, one shot in 16:35. Zero shots from Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan. One from Brandon Dubinsky. 

                      Losses to the Blues on Thursday and the Bruins on Sunday could effectively bring an merciful end to a mediocre season much, much closer. 

                      ""What we did well against Philly," said Tortorella.  "We were on the opposite end of the spectrum tonight. We need to come back and beat St. Louis (on Thursday)"    

 

                                 Last licks:  Perhaps the only thing weaker than the Rangers last night was the wireless service in the press room, the press box and the hallway. Even my usually reliable aircard kept getting kicked off the system. So apologies for the gaps in Twitter and this blog. The complaints were widespread. Bad job by MSG here. Even my Blackberry wasn't working well between 10 and 11 pm on deadline. Assume things will be back in order by Thursday or look for the carrier pigeons at your doorstep on Friday.