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Rangers' late rally falls short against Lightning at Garden

Trailing 3-0, the Rangers get close on goals by Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes, but they're unable to get the tying goal.

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist skates back onto the

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist skates back onto the ice past Lightning right wing Mathieu Joseph and defenseman Ryan McDonagh at the end of a timeout during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Rangers have played three games since returning from the All-Star break and have been pleased with their effort in all three of them. Unfortunately for them, they’ve come away with nothing in two of those games after their 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team with the best record in the NHL, on Saturday night at the Garden.

“There’s no moral victories in the NHL, but if you watch the game film, we put together a good three games,’’ said Kevin Hayes, whose power-play goal in the third period cut the deficit to one goal and gave the Rangers a chance. “We’ve got 31 games left, and you need points. And I felt like we could have got points in every game since the break. And we only have two points. And in order to take the next step, which is playoffs, we’ve got to get some points under our belt.’’

The loss to the Lightning (39-11-2) came in the opener of a five-game homestand for the Rangers (22-22-7).

Goals by Yanni Gourde (at 6:51 of the first period), Erik Cernak (4:41 of the second) and Steven Stamkos (8:33 of the second) put the Rangers in a 3-0 hole before Mats Zuccarello got the Blueshirts on the board at 16:17 of the second period. Hayes made it a game when he banged home a pass from Mika Zibanejad (two assists) at 6:49 of the third.

“We’re playing good hockey,’’ a disappointed-looking coach David Quinn said. “The Philly game [a 1-0 loss Tuesday], we felt like we deserved to win; tonight, you could say we deserved to win. You grade the chances and the quality of them, I thought we might have had slightly the better of the chances.

“But it’s a result-driven business. You’ve got to find ways to win hockey games, and unfortunately, the last two nights here at the Garden, we just haven’t had a chance to do that.’’

Quinn opted not to make any changes to the lineup that had won against the Devils on Thursday, and that meant he scratched defenseman Tony DeAngelo for the second game in a row.

But Quinn promised that DeAngelo wasn’t going to be banished to the press box much longer. “I think he’s a real good player and you’ll see him very, very shortly,’’ he said.

Quinn said he stayed with the same lineup because the six defensemen who dressed against the Devils played well enough to retain their places in the lineup. He did acknowledge that without DeAngelo’s skating and passing ability in the lineup, the Rangers might be a weaker team. But he said he believes that if DeAngelo learns the lesson he’s trying to teach him, the team will be better down the road.

“It’s a balancing act, for sure,’’ Quinn said of scratching any talented player. “And what I would say to that is, you’ve got to think big picture. Do I want to lose tonight? No, I don’t. But I think, big picture, if we’re going to have the success we’re capable of having, throughout the season, you may lose a game because of that [not having a player in the lineup one night], but over the course of 82 games, you’re going to have a much better hockey team.’’

Notes & quotes: The line of Zuccarello, Zibanejad and Chris Kreider has a total of 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in its last seven games . . . Henrik Lundqvist, who was credited with his third assist of the season on Hayes’ goal, made 20 saves. He faced only four shots in the third period as the Rangers outshot the Lightning 16-4.

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