Every morning when Alain Vig neault gets up, he looks at the NHL standings, specifically the Metropolitan Division, where the Rangers reside.
“I’m assuming if you’re a player, you do the same thing,” he said before Monday night’s 3-2 loss to the Lightning at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers are 1-3-1 in their last five.
When he wakes up today, Vig neault will see the Blueshirts still have 90 points, but with 12 games remaining, they retain a solid grip on the first wild card in the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay center Brayden Point scored the winner — and his second goal of the night — at 13:21 of the third period. The rookie reached between Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal and redirected Ondrej Palat’s shot through Antti Raanta, starting his second straight game.
“One play made the difference,’’ McDonagh said. “I came on for a late change, didn’t have a lot of speed, but I’ve got to take the most important guy there, and that’s the guy driving to the net. I didn’t get good position on him and he was able to have his stick free. A mistake for me that I wish I had back.”
Although the Rangers lead the league with 89 goals in third periods, they failed to come up with one against backup Peter Budaj. They managed only seven shots in the final 20 minutes and fell to 9-3 in the second game of back-to-backs. “We barely had any looks, any possession time,’’ Vigneault said. “No doubt our second and third were not good enough tonight to get a win.”
The Rangers had opportunities in the first 40 minutes, with 20 shots on Budaj and 10 that missed the net.
With the score 1-1 early in the second, Pavel Buchnevich missed a wide-open cage from 25 feet after Mika Zibanejad slid him a perfect setup.
Just over a minute later, the Lightning took a 2-1 lead. Gabriel Dumont got a piece of Jason Garrison’s soft shot from the right point and the puck bounced past Raanta’s stick at 5:04.
Michael Grabner poked the puck away from Garrison in the defensive zone and slipped a shot under Budaj at 10:22 for his 27th goal and a 2-2 tie.
Steven Kampfer’s one-timer that zipped past Budaj’s glove — the defenseman’s first goal as a Ranger — had given the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead at 5:53 of the first. Chris Kreider’s assist gave him a four-game point streak.
The Rangers had 13 shots on Budaj and allowed only three on Raanta in the first period, but the Lightning tied the score at 7:43 with the Rangers’ Brendan Smith in the box for tripping. Kucherov found Point alone in the slot, and he beat Raanta just inside the far post.
Raanta stopped all 38 shots he faced in last week’s shutout against the Lightning. “Tough, tough way to lose,’’ he said. “Not too many shots for me  and they got three goals, and you know that all three, you could do something a little bit different. I feel like we had the keys to win this game but we just couldn’t use them.”
Derek Stepan said that when the Rangers “look at the tape, I think it will come down to maybe we didn’t generate enough offense.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it was “an exceptional effort on a night when I thought both teams were off. Our goalie happened to make one more save than theirs and then ‘The Little Engine That Could,’ Brayden Point, he came through big for us.”