BOSTON - With their playoff hopes on the ledge, the Rangers had four minutes to pull themselves back from the abyss.
Marian Gaborik's face had been bloodied by the stick blade of Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara at 8:30 of the second period in a scoreless game Sunday, and the double-minor gave a Rangers an opportunity to keep the postseason flame burning. Instead, the Blueshirts could not muster a shot on goalie Tuukka Rask and had four attempts blocked.
"A key point of the game," said captain Chris Drury after the Rangers' playoff hopes dimmed to a flicker with a 2-1 loss to the Bruins. It was their third straight defeat. "Even if you don't score, you've got to get chances, get some momentum out of it. They killed them off and it kind of livened them up a little."
At 16:13, Daniel Paille was awarded a penalty shot after being wrestled by Artem Anisimov, but Henrik Lundqvist, yet again superb in a losing cause, got his left pad on Paille's wrister. Just 23 seconds later, Andrew Ference slid a cross-ice pass past several Rangers to Miroslav Satan, posted to the left of Lundqvist, and the veteran scored from one knee to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
As has been the case all season, when the opponent scores first, the Rangers (31-32-9) rarely rebound. They are 13-25-6 when trailing 1-0.
"It's hard," coach John Tortorella said. "[Lundqvist] comes up with a big save there and the next shift they score a goal where we have three guys staring at the puck."
The Rangers dropped five points behind the eighth-place Bruins and fell to 10th place in the East with 10 games to play. It appears more and more likely that the Rangers will miss the playoffs for the first time since the lockout.
"The biggest game of the year so far," said Lundqvist, who made 29 saves, "and we couldn't match . . . They were a little more aggressive and they played a little more physical. It just felt like we were waiting a little bit to see what things will happen until we scored our goal. Then you could see our urgency and energy increased a lot."
In the third period, with Lundqvist screened, a high backhander from Dennis Wideman from above the left circle at 10:20 put the lid on it. Michael Del Zotto's blue-line slap shot went off Milan Lucic's skate and past Tuukka Rask with 3:04 left to avoid the Rangers' sixth shutout in the last 27 games.
On the power play, 0-for-6 and a hideous 4-for-30 in the last six games, the Rangers had scant chances. "We never got anything going," Vinny Prospal said. "We simply didn't get in the zone to generate or get position and create something around their net. You just can't win with one goal."
Lundqvist said he didn't know whether "their PK was great or we really had a tough night getting things going."
Rask said they had the Rangers' number. "We scouted them, of course, so we know what they are going to do or what they usually do," Rask said. "Sometimes we let things slip and let them make the plays they want. Today we didn't."
Without a winning streak and a string of losses by the Bruins and ninth-place Thrashers, the imploding Rangers face a long summer, starting in mid-April.