If the visiting Nashville Predators represented a good measuring stick for how competitive the rebuilding Rangers will be this season, then consider this a test the Blueshirts passed, more or less.
They didn’t ace it — they would have needed to win to do that — but David Quinn’s young Blueshirts played hard, played smart and hung with one of the elite teams in the NHL for 60 minutes in a season-opening 3-2 loss Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
P.K. Subban’s goal early in the third period broke a 1-1 tie and the Rangers failed to convert on their only power play of the game late in the period as the Predators took the two points. But considering that this was Quinn’s first game behind the bench and that no one is projecting the Rangers to be a contender anyway, this wasn’t a bad beginning.
“When you don’t come out with a win, it’s obviously not fun,’’ Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said. “But . . . I think we got better. We battled hard. That’s a really good team we were playing against and I thought we did a lot of good things out there we can build on. There’s a lot of things we can work on but also take with us from this game.’’
“There was definitely a lot of good things,’’ said Henrik Lundqvist, who had 30 saves. “I thought we got better as the game went on. For both teams, first game, we hadn’t played in a week, it took some time to get going, but once we did, I thought our skating got a lot better and we started creating a lot more. They’re a good team, but at the same time, we had some looks. We’ve got to take advantage of it.’’
The pivotal point in the game came just before Subban’s goal when Rangers defenseman Adam McQuaid went down after taking a stick in the face from Predators forward Kevin Fiala in front of his own goal. The referees and linesmen got together and talked about the play but decided not to penalize Fiala. On the ensuing faceoff, Nashville’s Colton Sissons won it cleanly back to Mattias Ekholm, who passed it to Subban, who blasted a one-timer through traffic and past Lundqvist at 3:28 of the third period.
“I’m not really sure exactly what happened, but I just got a stick in the mouth,’’ McQuaid said of the non-penalty. “It just is what it is. You don’t get a call go your way, it’s not going to change, so you just refocus and keep playing. That’s all you can do . . . Obviously, the way things kind of played out there, it was an unfortunate series.’’
The Rangers had a couple of chances to tie it. They got their only power play with 6:00 to play but did not score. Then, on a close-in shot by Mats Zuccarello with 2:49 remaining, Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne made the save.
With 1:30 remaining and Lundqvist having skated to the bench for the extra skater on a delayed penalty against Subban, the Rangers were penalized for having too many men on the ice. After a Rangers timeout, the Predators won the faceoff and Sissons fired the puck into the empty net with 1:24 left.
But the Rangers kept plugging away, and Pavel Buchnevich scored on a deflection to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 34.1 seconds left. That, however, was where the comeback ended.