If the Rangers fail to make the playoffs for the first time since the lockout, they may look back on this St. Patrick's Eve game as a huge turning point.
Their aimless 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden, coupled with the eighth-place Bruins' 5-2 defeat of the Hurricanes, pushed them deeper into ninth place in the East, three points back of the Bruins, who have a game in hand.
"We turned the puck over," he said, "then we just chased them around."
With a dozen games left in the season, the Rangers will have to do much more chasing.
"We definitely don't want this to be the end of the year," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 32 saves, including 18 in the second period to keep the score tied at 1. "If we want to keep playing, we have to raise our level and play our best hockey down the stretch."
With 74 points, the Bruins host the Rangers, with 71 points, in a showdown matinee at TD Garden on Sunday. At 31-30-9, the Rangers have drifted between ninth and 11th place in the Eastern Conference for the last 13 games.
The winning goal came at 5:59 of the third when in a scramble, a loose puck fired in front by Sergei Kostitsyn kicked off the skate of Artem Anisimov and past Lundqvist, who was standing at the left post.
With 54 seconds remaining, the Rangers had their fifth power play, with Benoit Pouliot in the box, and Lundqvist pulled. But with just four men, Tomas Plekanec went around Michael Del Zotto at the blue line and hit the empty cage. "In a game like this, you could be 0-for-seven but if you come up with a big power-play goal in the third period, all's forgiven," Tortorella said. "We had a six-on-four, we can't even win a battle."
Trailing 1-0 in the second after Glen Metroplit's power-play tally in the first, Matt Gilroy's low slapper from the point banged off the leg of Sean Avery, who was battling with Hal Gill in front of Halak, to tie the score at 2:12.
With Anisimov in the box for hooking at 8:10 of the second, Brandon Dubinsky sped down the middle but lost the puck trying to stickhandle in front of Halak. It was symptomatic of the loose play of the Rangers, who produced just six shots and 11 total after 40 minutes.
"We didn't spend a lot of time in their end," Erik Christensen said. "They blocked a lot of pucks at the blue line and came back real fast. Once they had the lead, they were chipping the puck back and making us regroup."
Starting in the first, it was turnover city for the Rangers, repeatedly losing pucks on rushes, and once the Canadiens took the lead, they squeezed the Blueshirts. "We weren't on the body as much as we should have been," Chris Drury said. "They kind of lulled us to sleep in the neutral zone and just trapped us to death all night."