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Rangers lose to defending Cup champion Blues in St. Louis

St. Louis Blues' Zach Sanford (12) is congratulated

St. Louis Blues' Zach Sanford (12) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal as New York Rangers' Libor Hajek skates away during the second period on Jan. 11, 2020. Credit: AP/Billy Hurst

ST. LOUIS — Playing the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues provided both an inspiration to the Rangers and a true measuring stick as to where they are in relation to the NHL’s elite.

After all, the Blues famously were the last-place team in the league just after New Year’s Day last season before rallying to win it all.

And what the Blueshirts learned Saturday night is that there’s a long way to go for them to measure up to the Blues.

A four-minute penalty kill early in the first period that was followed almost immediately by Robert Bortuzzo’s goal appeared to energize the home team, and the Rangers were outclassed by the Blues, 5-2, at Enterprise Center. That snapped their winning streak at two games.

“I really thought that four-minute power play really put us back a little bit,’’ coach David Quinn said. “They seemed to get energy off of that and we got a little bit demoralized.’’

The Rangers (21-19-4 overall, 9-11-2 on the road) failed to pick up ground in the wild-card playoff chase. The Flyers, who hold the second wild-card spot, lost at home to Tampa Bay, 1-0. The Rangers remain six points out of a playoff spot.

Filip Chytil got the Rangers off to a flying start when he broke up the left wing and fired a wrist shot off the rush that beat Jordan Binnington’s glove hand at 1:34 of the first period.

The Blueshirts then had a golden opportunity to extend their lead when Bortuzzo was given a double-minor for high- sticking Micheal Haley at 5:32. But the Rangers’ power play accomplished nothing in its four-minute opportunity. In fact, they were lucky not to give up a shorthanded goal as the Blues had a couple of good chances against Henrik Lundqvist (24 saves).

As the power play was expiring, Alex Pietrangelo (two assists) blocked a shot by Artemi Panarin and got the puck over to Ivan Barbashev (two assists), who sent a pass to Bortuzzo just out of the penalty box, springing him for a breakaway. Bortuzzo’s first goal of the season tied it at 1 at 9:38.

The Blues scored the go-ahead goal late in the first period when defenseman Vince Dunn beat Lundqvist at 18:41 on a shot from the left faceoff dot.

Just 21 seconds into the second period, Pavel Buchnevich was sent off for hooking, and it didn’t take the Blues long to capitalize. David Perron, who found out earlier in the day that he had been voted to the All-Star Game by fans, scored his 20th goal to make it 3-1.

“I thought their power-play goal was a little bit of a killer for us early in the second,’’ Lundqvist said. “We just couldn’t clear it, and then they came right back at us. But they’re a good team. No question.’’

The Rangers moved within 3-2 on a goal by Brett Howden at 8:49 of the second period. Chytil sent a pass from behind the net to Howden in the low slot, and although Howden couldn’t control the puck, it appeared to bounce off his stick blade before getting past Binnington.

But the Blues got that goal right back. Zach Sanford stole the puck from Libor Hajek (who returned to the lineup after missing 16 games with a knee injury) in the neutral zone, creating a two-on-one for the Blues. Sanford passed to Barbashev, took a return pass and finished past a helpless Lundqvist to make it 4-2 at 10:34.

St. Louis tacked on another goal with 5:10 left in the second period. Jaden Schwartz broke out of the Blues’ zone, sent a pass to Brayden Schenn on the right boards, drove to the net and deflected a perfect pass from Schenn past Lundqvist.

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