Perhaps the best omen for the Rangers after their 2-1 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday was the sight of Vinny Prospal walking down the corridor without a limp after arthroscopic knee surgery last week.
"Good as new," said the team's second-leading scorer, who nonetheless will remain sidelined for several more games as his teammates struggle to put the puck in the net.
Only Marian Gaborik's league-leading 27th goal, a spinning backhander under goaltender Cam Ward at 9:08 of the third period, averted the Blueshirts' second straight shutout loss at Madison Square Garden.
"It wasn't so much line combinations, just finishing a chance," coach John Tortorella said. "I thought some of our best chances, we shot wide, let alone the four or five posts we hit . . . We lose a point because we simply don't bury a couple of our chances. It shouldn't be going into overtime. We have to get someone to step up and score a goal other than Gabby."
At the halfway mark of the regular season, Gaborik has 25 percent of the goals for the Rangers (19-17-5), who have 43 points and are 8-10-3 at home (28th-ranked in the NHL).
"We had more chances than them, we outplayed them, but it's just not going in for us," Ales Kotalik said. "We needed those two points and we don't have them. One is not enough."
The Rangers missed the net on 19 shots. Brandon Dubinsky, playing on left wing for the second straight game, led the team with four. Snakebit Chris Higgins, who has yet to score at home this season, had two excellent opportunities early and came up short.
"I've seen these guys score in practice. I know they can do it," said Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed Ray Whitney's backhander at 3:45 of overtime. Tom Kostopoulos scored his first goal in 17 games off a scramble in front with 36 seconds left in the first.
But even with a four-minute man advantage in the second period when Jussi Jokinen was in the box for high-sticking Dan Girardi, the Rangers didn't test Ward for the first two minutes, remained behind 1-0 and were 0-for-4 overall.
"It wasn't a good night [for the power play]," Tortorella said. "They [Carolina] were much more aggressive and we didn't win a faceoff."
Gaborik said the Rangers need to be more competitive on the power play. "We have to be stronger. We need to be confident with it," he said. "We have an edge in every game if it goes to the power play."
Although their power play ranks fifth, the units are under constant pressure because the five-on-five scoring has been woeful, with 13 even-strength goals in the last 10 games.
Lundqvist has surrendered two or fewer goals in 11 of his last 14 starts, but he understands the high wire on which the Rangers are walking - with or without Prospal, who has eight goals and 24 assists in 38 games.
"We're playing so many tight games," he said. "We can't afford any mistakes."