When the Rangers look back after this season ends, they may point to Wednesday as the day that the wheels came off.
In a 6-1 loss at the Garden to the Boston Bruins — who are a red-hot, legit Cup contender — the Blueshirts lost their fourth straight and looked like a distracted team just waiting for trades, with their minds on their uncertain futures.
Henrik Lundqvist, who was pulled for the third time in five starts, said: “It was disappointing, frustrating and embarrassing. The way things have been going lately takes me from being the way I want to be, on my toes, aggressive, to being a little passive in the second. I think it’s obviously a mental thing right now, it’s not technical. Those two goals in the first had a negative effect on my play.”
Lundqvist was chased in the second period after allowing four goals on 16 shots. He will still be around in April, long past the Feb. 26 trade deadline. But otherwise, this year’s team is officially a squad in transition, often lost on defense, and one that is expected to shed some unrestricted free agents and perhaps some more familiar faces in the summer as a re-tooling continues.
The Bruins, who won their fourth straight, steamrolled the Rangers, who have lost 7 of 8 and are 4-11 since the Winter Classic (all 11 losses coming in regulation).
“It was probably one of the worst games of my career, and one of the worst games I’ve ever been a part of in my Rangers career,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “With everything going on with the team, we need to stay focused on trying to put together somewhat of a complete game. we’re not getting close.”
The Rangers (25-24-5) seem destined to miss the postseason for the first time since the spring of 2010. Given the state of the Knicks, it also could be the first time since the spring of 2005 that no Madison Square Garden teams will host postseason games on Seventh Avenue. The Knicks made the playoffs in 2003-04, but lost in the first round to the New Jersey Nets. The Rangers didn’t qualify, extending their playoff-less string to seven campaigns. In 2004-05, the NHL season was wiped out by a lockout and the Knicks fell short.
On Wednesday, the battered Rangers — with five regulars sidelined — were embarrassed by the Bruins, who have dramatically moved in the opposite direction.
Patrice Bergeron scored twice, Zdeno Chara had a goal and assist and youngsters such as Sean Kuraly, with a goal, David Pastrnak and Danton Heinen stepped up as well.
Rick Nash, one of those UFAs who could be packing his bags, scored his 16th at the five-minute mark, stealing the puck from Chara, steaming down the right side and beating Anton Khudobin with a low stickside wrister. Nothing thereafter went right for the Blueshirts.
After Brendan Smith was stripped of the puck and Lundqvist stopped David Backes, Tony DeAngelo lost track of Riley Nash in front, and it was 1-1 just 2:54 later. Steven Kampfer’s giveaway led to Chara’s point shot while Lundqvist was screened at 16:09. Bergeron scored the first of his pair at 3:47 of the second to make it 3-1, Tim Schaller went through DeAngelo and scored to chase Lundqvist, and then Bergeron went around McDonagh for a shorthander at the 10-minute mark with Ondrej Pavelec in the net.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said: “We stopped doing our jobs on the ice [in the second period] and there’s no doubt they made us look very bad tonight.”
Nash, who was asked to submit a list of teams to whom he would agree to be traded, speedster Michael Grabner, the winger who leads the team with 21 goals and defenseman Nick Holden — probably won’t be on the ice when the Rangers start a Western Canada road trip the day after the trade deadline. And speculation surrounds Mats Zuccarello and McDonagh, who may be swapped, like Derek Stepan was last summer, around the annual draft.