Shutout losses in the heat of a playoff race are always tough to swallow.
Especially when a goal is disallowed in a 1-0 loss. And in this case, it cost the Rangers at least one vital point in the standings.
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With the Blueshirts trailing the San Jose Sharks 1-0 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, Carl Hagelin's tuck-in at the left post with 3:15 left in the second period appeared to be under goaltender Antti Niemi. But the official behind the net ruled that the puck never crossed the line.
Brad Richards complained, all four on-ice officials went to the scorer's table, and a lengthy video review took place in the league's war room in Toronto. A zoomed-in replay on the Garden's center-ice scoreboard showed that the puck had been across the line, but Toronto officials ruled that the evidence was inconclusive. The on-ice call stood and the matinee crowd booed loud and long.
"I wrapped it and it kind of kept going toward the corner but [Benoit] Pouliot, he was in the crease and he saw the puck was in," Hagelin said. "It was pretty obvious on the video review. But in all fairness, the refs couldn't see the puck. If the ref would have been closer right away, he would have been able to see the puck, but he was a little bit behind the goalie. It was just unlucky."
At the end of the period, Marc Staal also questioned the officials. "I guess they couldn't see it go across the line, but you know it's there," he said. "You see the puck go in the net; I guess they couldn't see the puck go across the line, when you logically know it's across. Whether [the rule is] written the right way or the wrong way, it didn't go our way."
"If they can't see it, they can't call it, even though it's so obvious," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 28 saves.
So Logan Couture's shorthanded goal at 11:48 of the first period stood up and Niemi made 41 saves, although the Rangers justifiably bemoaned several golden opportunities to score.
Said Lundqvist, "This loss is so painful in so many ways. We had so many open nets, so many chances to get back in this game. We just couldn't get it in. It's extremely painful. You look at their goal, to give it up on our power play, it just adds to the frustration."
With a win Sunday by the Flyers, the Rangers, with 76 points, tumbled into the second and last wild-card playoff spot in the East with 13 games to play.
Niemi stopped all 20 shots in the first period, including two Grade-A chances from Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello's wrister after taking Martin St. Louis' feed from behind the net.
Just before the waved-off goal, defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved what looked like a sure goal when he got his stick on Ryan McDonagh's open shot at the right post with Niemi on the left side.
The Rangers (36-29-4) also were 0-for-3 on power plays.
"We had some looks that he saved or we just missed," Richards said. "We gave ourselves a lot more looks than in the last three games, where we weren't creating much at all. That's more our game. There's still a lot of games left. We have to build on that effort."