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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Inconsistency the one constant for Rangers

New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, right, looks

New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, right, looks on from the bench with Marc Staal during the third period. (March 10, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

NEWARK

The Rangers wrapped a post-Olympic break stretch of five games against the top five teams in the Eastern Conference last night.

The tally, after a 6-3 loss to the Devils, looks like this: 1-2-2, four points of a possible 10.

Not good enough. Not consistent enough. And just plain not enough to get the Rangers out of their up-and-down, shift-to-shift play and into a postseason spot.

"We played in spurts," John Tortorella said, repeating a theme he's said time and again. "It's what we've done most of the year."

They had some fight last night, rallied three times from one-goal deficits and had some good moments. They had some bad ones, too, and it seemed every mistake ended up behind Henrik Lundqvist.

If it weren't for Lundqvist, the Rangers would not have gotten a point against the Penguins a week ago, or against the Sabres on Sunday. Last night, he gave up five goals on 17 shots, two deflected past him by his own teammates, before being lifted in the second period.

Not good enough.

"I maybe could have been a little more aggressive," Lundqvist said. "It was tough, just one of those nights."

There are 15 games left, and the Rangers cannot afford another one of those nights. They can't let a nonscoring threat such as Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta beat them in OT, as happened on Sunday, when the Rangers had momentum after tying it in the final 90 seconds.

They can't let a brilliant game from Lundqvist, who had 50 saves against the high-powered Penguins, go to waste in overtime.

And last night, they let the game get away after three rallies, three goals on just a dozen shots against a vulnerable Martin Brodeur and a less than stellar Devils team on a long slide of its own (7-13-1 in the last 21).

The Rangers - who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday - are not that far away from these top Eastern Conference teams, despite the standings. If Lundqvist were to get hot over these last 15 games and the Rangers were to crack the top eight, I doubt the Caps or Sabres or Senators would be itching to face the Rangers and their top-notch goaltender in the first round.

But they can get there only by playing together and not looking like a cohesive team one minute and a mismatched gang the next. So far, it's not been good enough to do more than frustrate everyone who watches.

"We definitely had chances to get more than four points this stretch," Chris Drury said. "We've played worse at times and gotten more points . . . At the end of the day, none of that really matters. We just need to find a way."

The way is there, and some Rangers had it going last night. The fourth-liners, Brandon Prust in particular, played a solid north-to-south game. Marc Staal and Michal Rozsival were solid in their end on defense.

But, as Tortorella noted, "Some guys fought it a bit." Marian Gaborik set up Vinny Prospal for a pretty goal, but those two, along with Olli Jokinen, were on for the next Devils goal and looked out of sync while they were together.

Wade Redden struggled through another off night. Matt Gilroy looks worn down after a longer season than he's ever played.

"This is our team," Tortorella said. "We have to figure it out on our own."

Right now, it's not good enough. The maddening thing is that it's not that far off.

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