MONTREAL — See ya later. Happy trails. And with the Rangers among the French Canadians, bon voyage is only appropriate.
The Rangers seemed to be saying goodbye in every which way on Thursday, and then late that night, the goodbye became official after their fifth straight defeat, a 3-1 loss to the Canadiens.
After being kept out of the lineup, Michael Grabner was traded to the Devils for a second-round pick and 20-year-old prospect Yegor Rykov, a defenseman. It was reported to be the first trade ever between the Rangers and Devils.
Four days before the trade deadline, Rick Nash also was held out of the game and will not be available for Friday night’s game against the Wild at the Garden, coach Alain Vigneault said.
In addition to sitting out Grabner and Nash, the Rangers called up Vinni Lettieri from Hartford.
Before the game, Vigneault praised Ryan McDonagh — injured, but a few days away from a return — and Nash for their poise amid swirling rumors.
Oh, and a pregame media note praising Grabner was titled “Up for Grabs.” Really.
Grabner, who has a team-high 25 goals, will be a free agent at the end of the season. His contract will cost the Devils only a $1.65-million cap hit for the rest of the season — a cheap rental moved only days before Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
After a few years with the Islanders and Maple Leafs, Grabner signed with the Rangers in 2016 and experienced a career resurgence. He had 27 goals and 13 assists last season.
It seems increasingly unlikely that Grabner will be the only Ranger to pack his bags. Earlier this month, Nash, also a free agent at the end of the season, was asked to compile a list of teams to which he’d be willing to be traded (he has a no-move clause in his contract). McDonagh, who has missed seven games with an upper-body injury, could be shipped to the Maple Leafs or the Bruins — two of the teams rumored to be interested in the Rangers’ captain.
“They’ve been handling it like professionals,” Vigneault told reporters when asked specifically about Nash and McDonagh before the game. “They come to practice and they practice hard. In Ryan’s case, he’s been injured for a couple weeks here, but Rick has played and he’s played well for us, so it’s what you want from your players at this time with these distractions going on.”
On Thursday, the Rangers fell apart defensively early, victimizing goalie Alexandar Georgiev in his first NHL start. The Rangers were outshot 32-14 through two periods and trailed 2-0, though given all the clean looks they were getting, it was somewhat miraculous that the Canadiens scored only twice.
In addition to Georgiev, Long Island product Rob O’Gara — acquired by the Rangers in a trade with the Bruins on Tuesday — made his Blueshirts debut, though it was a bumpy one for the defenseman. He missed a pivotal coverage on the Canadiens’ first goal, a tip-in by Tomas Plekanec.
The Rangers let up another messy goal at 3:50 of the second period on a bad change that turned into a three-on-two Canadiens advantage.
Kevin Hayes scored a power-play goal at 17:00 of the third, but Phillip Danault scored an empty-netter at 18:43.