SAN JOSE, Calif. — Two years ago, the Rangers came into the Shark Tank and were simply chum, losing 9-2.
If not for Henrik Lundqvist on Saturday, it would have been deja vu all over again. The Blueshirts allowed a season-high 52 shots in a disturbingly lackluster effort that angered players and prompted a closed-door meeting after a 4-1 loss that concluded a 1-1-1 road trip.
Although the Sharks dominated the first 40 minutes, the score was 1-1, thanks to Lundqvist’s 36 saves. But the Rangers folded in the third as the Sharks continued attacking. San Jose scored three times between 5:45 and 9:05, including Joel Ward’s second of the game, and Antti Raanta replaced Lundqvist, who had faced 47 shots.
Asked why Lundqvist was pulled, coach Alain Vigneault said: “I mean, it was 4-1 and he was by himself there, so . . . This could have been, as far as puck movement from our defense, one of our worst nights of the year.”
There was plenty of anger after the game, according to Marc Staal. “That type of game at this time of year . . . is garbage,” Staal said.
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh was even harsher as he talked about the third period: “It seemed guys weren’t willing to compete hard, and that’s a very hard thing to say, but you have to admit it sometimes. Our group gave away two points. It’s very uncharacteristic. We left [Lundqvist] out to dry. The way he was competing for pucks, we weren’t nearly as good as he was.”
A tight-lipped Lundqvist fell on his sword for no reason except to not bash his teammates.
“I need to make more saves, if that’s the only way,” he said. “There were so many big chances. I don’t know what to say.”
Asked about McDonagh’s comment about competing, he said. “I’m only speaking personally. Get a better answer from the players and coaches . . . Obviously, there were some turnovers that cost us pretty big. There’s only one way to win hockey games, and that’s to play hard and smart, and if you’re missing that a little bit against a good team, it’s going to be tough.”
Tough is an understatement. The Rangers, with 88 points, are clinging to second place in the Metropolitan Division with 10 games to play, just two ahead of the surging Penguins, who have a game in hand. They were behind the play all afternoon and didn’t convert on three power-play opportunities.
The steamrolling started in the first period as the Rangers were careless in the defensive zone and Lundqvist was forced to make 16 saves. In the second, Ward’s first goal came on a power play off a backhanded pass from behind the net after Kevin Klein left the front open by chasing the play into the corner. But former Shark Dan Boyle scored his eighth goal of the season on a two-on-one pass from Derick Brassard at 17:32.
“By some fortunate chance, we were tied after two, but we didn’t play well,” Vigneault said. “Other than maybe Dom Moore’s line, the other three weren’t very good. We should have had a push, but it started with Marc [Staal] throwing the puck over the glass [a penalty 19 seconds in], a symbol of our defense moving the puck tonight.”
Joe Thornton scored on a rebound for a 2-1 lead and Ward and Joe Pavleski secured the win. Sharks goalie Martin Jones faced only 26 shots.
“It was ugly,” Staal said. “We’re trying to make plays and they’re not there. We’re not making plays when they are there. Just fighting it all over the ice. When you’re doing that, you better rely on your defensive game, and there was none of that going on today. We were naked.”