The Rangers ended a stretch of four games in six nights with a thud Sunday night at the Garden, dropping a 5-2 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a game they will try to forget quickly.
Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg each scored twice as the Jackets jumped past the Rangers into third place in the tight Metropolitan Division and dropped the Rangers into the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot.
The Blueshirts, who had played three consecutive games that were decided either in overtime or a shootout, lost much of their crispness and structure against the Blue Jackets, who had torched the Islanders on Saturday, 7-0.
“In the grand scheme of things, we weren’t nearly as sharp and didn’t bring much energy,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “I don’t think anyone should be happy with their game tonight. We had a good stretch here [they entered Sunday 9-1-1 in their previous 11 games] when things have been going our way . . . But you’ve got to come ready to play and put in a 60-minute effort, and we didn’t do that.”
The Jackets led 4-1 early in the third period before final-minute goals by Josh Anderson and Jesper Fast.
“They were the better team tonight,” Derek Stepan said. “They deserved the two points.”
The Rangers (40-20-2) are one point behind Columbus (39-16-5), which won three of the five games between the teams this season and has two games in hand.
“We know the way a Torts [coach John Tortorella] team plays, and we didn’t match it,” Dan Girardi said. Players made it a point to not blame Henrik Lundqvist, who made 21 saves.
“Obviously, they hurt us on their transition game. I felt they had so many odd-man rushes,” said Lundqvist, who was 10-2-1 with a 1.91 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage in his previous 14 games and had allowed two or fewer goals in 10 of them.
Wennberg gave the Blue Jackets the lead at 1:02 on the team’s second shot. After Rick Nash was denied by Sergei Bobrovsky (28 saves) on a break-in, Jimmy Vesey found him open on the right and his top-shelf wrister — his 18th goal of the season — tied the score at 4:07. Tortorella challenged the goal, claiming the Rangers were offside, but a review upheld the call.
The Jackets responded after Adam Clendening drew a penalty for roughing at 6:05. Forty-two seconds later, Atkinson, patient between the circles, picked a spot and beat Lundqvist off the post to his stick side for a 2-1 lead.
Brandon Saad had an opportunity to put Columbus up by two when he was awarded a penalty shot with 52.2 seconds left in the period after being hooked by Mats Zuccarello on a shorthanded rush. But Lundqvist got a piece of his wrister.
Oscar Lindberg beat Bobrovsky just past the four-minute mark of the second period but rang the crossbar. Lundqvist later stopped Zach Werenski in alone, then Nick Holden slid to save a goal, but with the Blueshirts scrambling, Wennberg backhanded in his 12th of the season at 9:47.
The backcheck was lacking much of the night, and defensemen Holden and Marc Staal were on ice for four goals.
In the third, Atkinson made it 4-1 at 4:12 with his 29th after Brandon Dubinsky’s steal. Anderson finished the Jackets’ scoring with 23.5 seconds to play and Fast scored at 19:59.
Said coach Alain Vigneault: “There’s no doubt tonight that the whole group was off.”