Thud. The Rangers' four-game winning streak ended in the final minutes on Thursday night, as the Blueshirts were victimized by sloppy play at the end of a 2-1 loss to the Western Conference cellar-dwelling Edmonton Oilers at Madison Square Garden.
With the score tied at 1 and the Rangers within reach of at least a point despite some erratic play, Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov was left alone in the slot with a handful of Rangers out of position. His quick shot tipped Chris Kreider's stick and went past Cam Talbot with 1:38 left in regulation for the game-winner.
"Five guys on the ice getting beat to loose pucks and them protecting the puck and finding a man alone in the slot," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We tried to block the shot, it goes off a stick and in, but there were five puck battles and we lost them all."
Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall led those final battles for the Oilers, who have won five of their last six games. Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens made 35 saves. He also shut out the Rangers with 37 saves as a member of the Kings on Nov. 13 at the Garden.
Talbot made 29 saves for the Rangers (31-24-3), who had won 10 of 13 and were 15-5-1 in their previous 21 games.
Surprisingly, Talbot pointed the finger on the deciding goal.
"With a minute and a half left, we've got to have our coverage in our end and know where their guys are," he said. "It was their top line out there and we can't leave guys alone in the slot like that."
Were the Rangers looking past the Oilers, perhaps to Friday night's game in Pittsburgh or to the Olympic break?
Vigneault seemed to feel that way. "There are no easy games in this league," he said. "You have to prepare yourself to execute and compete real hard. There were some parts of our game we were executing and playing fast, and some other parts we were standing still and watching them."
That was similar to the sentiment from Ryan Callahan, who admitted he was surprised by the pass to Yakupov, which went through him in front.
"I don't think consistently, through 60 minutes, we played the way we need to," he said. "It was kind of in spurts, and when you get opportunities, you've got to score. I thought that was the difference."
The Rangers started sluggishly and fell behind at 2:56 of the first period. Kevin Klein's pass from the corner hit Brian Boyle's skate and slid to Oilers forward David Perron, whose shot hit Talbot's shoulder and popped in the air in the crease for a tap-in by Ryan Smyth.
The lone Rangers goal came on the first shot of the second period as Derick Brassard, from the right dot, one-timed a cross-ice pass from Mats Zuccarello just 22 seconds in. It was Brassard's 11th of the season and extended his point streak to five games, with three goals and four assists.
Oddly, only one penalty was called. Daniel Carcillo went off for slashing at 10:22 of the second period.
"There definitely could have been penalties," said Brad Richards, who fell behind the net on Yakupov's goal, "but I'm not blaming it on the refs."