WASHINGTON - The trouble with fancy sports cars is that they have a tendency to break down at the worst possible moments -- usually at great expense to their owners.
So it has come to pass for the Rangers, who raced their way to the Presidents' Trophy as a sleek hockey machine that wowed fans and cowed opponents with speed and panache.
Now this: Their 2-1 loss to the Capitals Wednesday night in Game 4 of a second-round playoff series left them down three games to one and on the brink of a profoundly disappointing exit.
The problem, as it has been throughout the playoffs, was self-evident. "We know we have to score more," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Everybody knows."
The Rangers were good enough to overcome the clutch-and-grab Penguins in the first round on the strength of four 2-1 victories.
But the Capitals are better than that, and have used their own defensive commitment -- especially in blocking shots -- and an outstanding series from goaltender Braden Holtby to turn the Rangers' scoring drought into a victory drought.
A 20-year-old rookie who grew up as a Henrik Lundqvist fan in Sweden, Andre Burakovsky, scored more goals in Game 4 than the Rangers did during their entire stay in Washington.
They now have scored 16 goals in nine playoff games, and have played an NHL-record 11 consecutive one-goal games in the playoffs, dating to last year's Final. "I feel like they have an answer for everything," said Derick Brassard, who scored the Rangers' only goal, giving him five for the postseason. No one else on the team has more than two.
"The most frustrating part is we feel good about our game. It's just not good enough. We have to score more goals, I guess."
It didn't even help the Rangers when Carl Hagelin was awarded a penalty shot with 11:59 left in the game. No dice. Holtby plucked Hagelin's backhand shot out of the air with his glove. "I got that opportunity and I missed it," Hagelin said. "Hopefully next time I score."
It was not as if the Rangers were without good scoring chances, or that they did not play with spirit. They did. That only made the outcome more frustrating. "We had our looks, we had our chances," Lundqvist said. "It comes down to making a big play when it's there for you. You can't ask for a better work ethic. It's all in. It's just: Figure out a way to put the puck in the net."
Both Capitals goals came after the Rangers gave away the puck. Chris Kreider was victimized on the first, Ryan McDonagh on the second.
"I'm the last guy back," McDonagh said. "I can't put it into a guy's skates and let their guy go in on a breakaway."
The Rangers tried to get their defensemen more involved in the offensive zone. Vigneault tried to goose the lines by starting Dominic Moore with Hagelin and Kevin Hayes. Once again, though, they failed at the game's most fundamental task.
This is starting to look a lot like 2012, when the Rangers' offense stalled in a conference final loss to the Devils. But this team has more firepower than that one did. On paper.
Rick Nash has one playoff goal, Martin St. Louis none.
Rangers fans share the players' pain. Everyone knows the hockey playoffs are a crapshoot and the best regular-season team often does not win it all.
But last year's run to the Final spoiled everyone, and the regular season only added to the justifiable expectations for something big this spring.
"We do not want to end this in front of our own fans," Lundqvist said, referring to Game 5 Friday night.
The feeling is mutual.