Even though the Rangers regained eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals Sunday night, a point at home is not enough. Not when March is winding down and the Blueshirts play 11 of the final 17 games on the road.
"We had enough chances to win this game," Henrik Lundqvist said. He was beaten by Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in the four-round shootout after the Rangers recovered from an early 2-0 deficit on goals by Arron Asham and Derek Stepan to tie the score in the first period.
The lone point edged the Rangers (15-13-3) above the cutoff line, ahead of Carolina with 32. The Rangers now hit the road for three games, starting in Philadelphia Tuesday. But the Hurricanes have a game in hand and the Islanders and the Capitals are close behind.
"We have to focus on each game like a playoff game," Lundqvist said. "There's no other way for us to do this now. We're in a really tough spot. We can't rely on just a few guys.
"We need everybody to step up and play their best hockey going down the stretch. We can't afford any more bad games. We can't afford any points to slip away. We came back, but right now we need two points, not just one."
Each side had several chances to end it in regulation. The best Rangers opportunity came when Michael Del Zotto sprung Marian Gaborik for a break-in at 11:11 of the second period, but when he went to his backhand, Braden Holtby made the stop.
Ryan Callahan lost his angle on a shot from the right side midway through the third and later lamented the lost opportunities for the elusive third goal.
"We had chances in the second and third and we just couldn't find the next one, and eventually they did in the shootout," Callahan said.
In the shootout, only Stepan, with a deke and backhand, solved Holtby, who poke-checked the puck away from Rick Nash, forced Callahan wide and used his blocker to get a piece of Brad Richards' attempt.
The Rangers fell behind 2-0 on a power-play goal by Backstrom at 7:54 and a deflection by Ovechkin at 9:45 that took the air out of the Garden.
But Asham, playing his first game after missing 15 with back spasms, went down the left side and sniped top shelf on a two-on-one with Kris Newbury at 14:12. The momentum had swung.
"It seemed to get the bench going and started to get the team rolling," Asham said.
His checking line, with Newbury and Darroll Powe, forced Jason Chimera to dump Powe in front at 17:31. When Nash sped to the net on the power play, he was slashed by Karl Alzner, creating a five-on-three. Stepan cashed in his ninth on a bad angle just seven seconds later.
"They took a couple penalties on us and our power play got us back into it," Asham said. "It's just too bad we couldn't finish it off."
Coach John Tortorella praised Del Zotto's defensive play during the Capitals' five-on-three for 1:42 in the second and the fourth line for "changing the complexion" of the game.
Without the second point, though, the Rangers' complexion is hardly rosy.