DETROIT — Apparently, the Rangers still have some work to do as far as nailing down this whole closing-out-games thing.
After successfully protecting late third-period leads in each of their previous two games, the Rangers couldn’t secure three straight regulation victories Friday night in Detroit. Andreas Athanasiou scored with 2:02 left in regulation to erase the Red Wings’ one-goal deficit and the Rangers had to kill a penalty to Pavel Buchnevich just to force overtime. Then Dylan Larkin’s goal with 5.1 seconds left in OT gave the Red Wings a 3-2 victory and ended the Rangers’ winning streak at four games.
“You think we learned lessons so far and we just cheated the game,’’ angry Rangers coach David Quinn said. “And when you cheat the game with a 2-0 lead, you get that result. You’ve got to learn lessons. You’ve got to learn lessons. You can’t cheat the game.’’
“We beat ourselves,’’ Kevin Hayes said. “We gave them nothing for two periods and had an embarrassing third period. And they scored both their goals off our turnovers and we gave them two points. You can’t beat yourself in this league. You’ve got to make the other teams win — deserve to win — and that wasn’t the case tonight.’’
The Rangers, who flew to Columbus after the game for Saturday’s encounter with John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets, scored two power-play goals 40 seconds apart late in the second period and entered the third period with a 2-0 lead. But a turnover by Brendan Smith behind the net — he was stripped of the puck by Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist, who fed a net-crashing Justin Abdelkader for a tap-in goal at 1:46 of the third — was the turning point, according to Quinn.
“Their first goal changes everything,’’ he said. “It just changes everything. The whole momentum changes, we’re on our heels a little bit, but still, we cheated. Our mindset cheats, we cheated and we get what we deserve.’’
On the bright side for the Rangers, they lifted their point streak to five games (4-0-1).
Missing Mats Zuccarello, who stayed in New York with a groin strain, the Rangers dominated the first period, outshooting the Wings 11-6 and pinning them in their zone for much of the opening 20 minutes. But they had no lead to show for it, and when Detroit started to generate some pressure and create some chances in the second period, it looked as if the game would be scoreless after 40 minutes as well.
But the Red Wings’ Jacob de la Rose was sent off for a double-minor for high-sticking Hayes at 16:48 of the period. The Rangers responded by scoring two power-play goals 40 seconds apart to take a 2-0 lead and silence the stunned home crowd.
With the second unit starting the power play, point man Kevin Shattenkirk whipped a wrist shot from above the left-wing circle through Jimmy Vesey’s screen and over the right shoulder of Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard for his first goal of the season at 17:53.
Then Neal Pionk fired a shot from the point that deflected off something on its way in and got by Howard to make it 2-0 at 18:33. It was the third straight game in which the Rangers had scored consecutive goals less than a minute apart. Initially, the goal was announced as belonging to Chris Kreider, who was set up in front. Pionk eventually got the goal, his third of the season and third in the last three games.