If the Rangers learned anything at all from their four-game sweep over the hapless Devils, it was that they simply have no wiggle room if they are to stay in the playoff race. Four straight wins gained them no ground on the fourth-place Boston Bruins; all it did was allow them to keep pace.
So with time running out on the season, Tuesday night’s game at Nassau Coliseum against the Islanders was virtually a must-win for the Rangers.
They lost, 6-1.
And they also lost defenseman Jacob Trouba to an upper body injury that could possibly be a concussion, which would certainly keep him out for an extended period. The way Trouba had been playing of late, that kind of loss will be massive, and perhaps too much to overcome, as far as any chance of hanging in the playoff race.
The Bruins widened their lead over the Rangers for the final playoff spot in the East Division to six points, with a 2-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The Rangers have 10 games remaining; Boston has 12.
Rangers coach David Quinn, who admitted the way the Rangers lost was "humbling,’’ refused to blame the loss on Trouba’s injury.
"You saw the effect it had,’’ he said of Trouba leaving the game. "But I didn't love what we're doing before he got hurt either. I thought we just weren't playing the way we needed to play if we were gonna have a chance tonight. I thought we were sloppy; I thought we were too high risk; too east-west; weren't playing fast enough. And obviously, once Troubs went out, our level of play dropped even more.’’
Trouba was forced to leave with 10:45 remaining in the first period, after absorbing a heavy hit into the boards from the Islanders’ Matt Martin. Trouba had crunched Martin in the boards earlier, and Martin had an opportunity to get him back when the puck went into the corner and Trouba went to retrieve it.
Trouba appeared to see Martin coming and had time to brace himself for the hit. But after the hit, he fell, and when he tried to get up, his legs went out from under him, and he fell again. Play was stopped and Trouba was helped off the ice and to the dressing room immediately.
There was no score at the time, but suddenly, the Rangers looked discombobulated, with their defense down to five men, and one of their most physical players and most vocal leaders gone.
"We're all human, we all want to make sure that he's OK,’’ defenseman Brendan Smith said. "So yeah, emotionally that you're always there for a brother like that, and you can't take away what he does for us on the ice, and especially as a leader. But you’ve got to respond, and I don't think we did a very good job of that.’’
The first of two goals by Josh Bailey gave the Islanders the lead at 17:42 of the first period, and two goals early in the second by Brock Nelson (at 1:38) and Anthony Beauvillier (at 5:45) put them up, 3-0.
Kevin Rooney got the Rangers on the board, deflecting in a shot by Smith for his seventh goal of the season, at 11:04. But that was the only goal they would get. The Islanders got goals in the third from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Bailey and Jordan Eberle to remove any doubt.
Igor Shesterkin allowed all six goals, the most he has allowed in his two-year career… Quinn used the same lineup he did Sunday, meaning D Anthony Bitetto played his second straight game in place of Libor Hajek. Forwards Julien Gauthier and Phillip DiGiuseppe and D Zac Jones were the other scratches… 2018 first-round pick D Nils Lundkvist’s Swedish Hockey League season ended when his Lulea team lost 3-1 to Skelleftea in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series.