Maybe the Rangers thought they were still on the All-Star break for the first two periods at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.
Few could have envisioned the early flashback to some of the woeful losses of earlier in the season as the Columbus Blue Jackets were schooling the Blueshirts, chasing Henrik Lundqvist early in the second period and building a six-goal lead by the second minute of the third period.
The Rangers battled back with four goals in the final period, including three in a span of 3:21, but the uphill climb was too steep in their 6-4 loss.
Rookie Jimmy Vesey, who had gone 10 games without a point, ruined Joonas Korpisalo’s shutout bid with a backhander off the netminder’s chest at 2:51 of the third period, but there was no silver lining for the Rangers, who have stumbled to a 14-11-1 record at the Garden. Michael Grabner scored his 22nd of the season at 5:01 and Chris Kreider poked in a loose puck to give the Rangers some solace, scoring at 6:12. Kevin Klein scored his first of the season with the Rangers’ net empty with 1:07 left, but it was not enough.
“They got a lucky goal in the first,” J.T. Miller said. “We had our looks. Just a really bad period in the second. It’s kind of an embarrassing effort at home. We talk a lot about playing better at home. Giving up four in one period is unacceptable.”
Trailing 1-0, the Rangers fell off the pace quickly in the second period. Brandon Saad, racing down the left side ahead of Rick Nash on an odd-man rush, took a pass from Alexander Wennberg and beat Lundqvist with a short-side wrister at 1:06.
And then during a four-on-four, Wennberg’s backhand flip goal at 3:42 prompted coach Alain Vigneault to yank Lundqvist in favor of Antti Raanta, who was dressed for the first time since Jan. 14, when he suffered a lower-body injury in Montreal. Lundqvist had allowed three goals on 16 shots and the crowd cheered the Finnish netminder’s first save.
“I know I need to be better; that third goal was just a killer,” said Lundqvist, who took only one question from the media. “Back to work tomorrow. Get better. “
All John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets had to do was shift into a tight checking style and not take penalties to capture their second win in three tries against the Rangers, who have won only one of their last six home games.
With 8:45 left in the second, Mats Zuccarello’s shot from inside the right circle flew by the far post, and he just shook his head. That gesture said it all.
The Blue Jackets didn’t lay back and added to the misery when, on a three-on-two, Scott Hartnell found Seth Jones for his second goal of the night, zipping a low shot past Raanta at 12:52. The rout was on and Nick Foligno collected a hard pass off his skates in front and easily beat a diving, helpless Raanta high for Columbus’ fifth goal on 20 shots at 16:04 and the Rangers were booed off the ice.
“You have to have a little pride,” Dan Girardi said. “In our home building, we need to have some swagger. But we weren’t giving up [in the third]. That’s the only positive.”
Starting with a power play at the game’s 11-second mark, when Derek Stepan was hooked by Brandon Dubinsky while on a rush, the Rangers had plenty of chances early. Korpisalo stopped all five shots on the power play and a couple of tips in front missed high afterward.
After Korpisalo deftly kicked away a deflection, Jones lofted a shot from the right point that went through a screen past Lundqvist at 3:53 and the Rangers were down a goal despite their good efforts.
Lundqvist denied a couple attempts as the Blue Jackets found their legs. Korpisalo remained sharp, getting his left arm on Kevin Klein’s bid from alone in front and an ensuing flurry.
Chris Kreider, called for holding, and Scott Harrington, for unsportsmanlike conduct, were sent off with 23 seconds left, and perhaps a bit of frustration was creeping into the Rangers’ psyche.
Notes & quotes: With Marc Staal back after missing nine games with a concussion, Adam Clendening was a healthy scratch. Clendening was 1-4-5 in the nine games and a minus-4. Oscar Lindberg (1-6-7 in 33 games) was the spare forward with Jesper Fast recovered from an upper-body injury . . . The Rangers, who are 0-2 against the Sabres, play in Buffalo Thursday.