It was there on a platter. The surging Rangers, who had won seven of eight games, had a huge opportunity to move within a point of sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
They fell just short.
Erik Karlsson scored the lone goal of the shootout in the fifth round as the Ottawa Senators defeated the Rangers 2-1, and halted the Blueshirts' five-game winning streak.
The single point, however, put the seventh-place Rangers (40-30-5, 85 points) four ahead of the Sabres and seven ahead of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes. Each has two games in hand. Sixth-place Montreal lost to the Bruins, 7-0 but the Rangers gained a point on them and are two behind. Each has seven games to play.
“We don’t play many bad games,” said coach John Tortorella. “Tonight was one of them…We steal a point. You take it, stuff it in your back pocket and move by this.”
Six Rangers failed to solve Craig Anderson in the shootout: Erik Christensen, Mats Zuccarello, Wojtek Wolski, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan. Henrik Lundqvist stopped the first four Senators.
But the Rangers said the shootout against the team with the fewest points in the East should never have happened.
“We didn’t play with near the desperation we needed at this time of year,” said Callahan, who stick snapped on his shootout attempt. “I know we have a little bit of a cushion, but that’s no excuse. We had no second or third effort. We didn’t sustain a forecheck. We’re fortunate to get a point.”
Trailing 1-0 after two lackluster periods, Brandon Prust’s wrister beat Anderson and tied the game at 2:45 of the third. Marc Staal, in his first game back after missing two with an undisclosed injury, was taken down by Chris Phillips in mid-ice but the managed to slide the puck to Prust, who scored his 12th of the season from the right circle.
“It was just us sleeping,” said Vinny Prospal. “We didn’t have energy to create anything. We battled back to tie the game. It’s the only positive.”
In the last two meetings, the Rangers had outscored the Senators 9-4, but the Rangers struggled last night. They were 0-for-2 with the man-advantage and couldn’t convert a 4-on 3 in overtime.
Ryan Shannon hit the twine with a cross-ice pass from Bobby Butler at 15:21 of the second period to give the Senators a 1-0 lead on their 16th shot of the game. The Rangers had just killed an Ottawa power play, when Jesse Winchester was high-sticked by Wojtek Wolski at 12:58. During that sequence, a stickless Lundqvist, who made 29 saves through overtime, stopped Karlsson at the right post.
For the second consecutive game, the Rangers scored just one goal.
“We can’t expect to score four of five goals,” said Lundqvist, who started his 19th consecutive game. “We’ve been working so hard, so if you drop a little bit, you can see it. We have scored two goals in two games and got three points. I’m happy we came back. It looked pretty dead the first two periods. It’s going to be a tough one Saturday (in Boston). Hopefully facing a really good team is going to re-energize us to raise our game.”
It was the last home game for the Blueshirts until April 4; the next four games are on the road, beginning against the Bruins and ending in Philadelphia next Sunday.