ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Return of The King, an adventure in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, was a box office smash.
A sequel Sunday night involving the Rangers flopped, though. Henrik Lundqvist was back in the crease after missing eight games with a hip muscle strain, but it didn’t help.
The Blueshirts had a chance to secure a postseason spot with two points, but the Ducks scored twice in 2:04 early in the third period at Honda Center and spoiled Lundqvist’s return with a 6-3 win.
Andrew Cogliano, alone in front, put a rebound off a faceoff past Lundqvist, and Patrick Eaves’ shot that was going wide bounced off Brady Skjei’s skate and in to give the Ducks a 5-3 lead. Nick Ritchie scored at 18:22 to seal it.
“Overall, I felt OK,’’ Lundqvist said. “There were a couple reads I could do better, like on the odd-man rushes. You don’t feel as comfortable as you did with the reads. I felt pretty good to start the game and that second goal [Ryan Kesler’s high deflection] and the fifth goal [off Skjei’s skate] were some tough bounces. I felt pretty good at times . . .
“There were definitely things I could do better. On the fourth goal, I was surprised that he [Cogliano] was that alone. I think that surprised everyone . . . You just hope for a little easier game, but there’s no easy games. The way they move the puck, especially their top players, you have to be on top of your game.”
Said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault: “I know Henrik. He’s going to get better.”
With the score tied at 2 in the second period, Corey Perry’s slash gave the Rangers a power play at 8:55, but Mika Zibanejad’s ill-advised play helped the Ducks snap the tie. His blind backhand pass toward the blue line from the Ducks’ zone was picked off and Josh Manson buried a pass from Ryan Getz laf through a screen for a shorthanded goal at 9:39 for a 3-2 Ducks lead.
Zibanejad made up for the blunder when he broke down ice on another odd-man rush, with Skjei joining up as the trailer. Skjei’s slap shot beat Jonathan Bernier for the third tie of the game at 13:10.
“At the end of the night, we had too many guys who brought a ‘C’ game,’’ Vigneault said, “and that’s not good enough against a team that’s playing as well as they are.”
The Rangers didn’t have much puck luck. With about six minutes left, Derek Stepan’s shot hit the iron behind Bernier three times — the near post, the crossbar and the other post. A quick whistle minutes earlier wiped out Marc Staal’s goal when the referee lost sight of the puck, which was not under Bernier. Said Staal, “We had our fair share of chances, but we were giving up a fair share ourselves. When you play like that, you’re gonna have nights like this. They go bang-bang and we don’t.”
“We let our guard down on a couple plays and they made us pay,’’ Ryan McDonagh said. “In general tonight, we weren’t sharp with our passing. It’s disappointing. Hank made some incredible saves to keep us in it. We have one more game left on this road trip and I think the guys are going to be pretty anxious because they know what’s at stake.”
An entertaining first period that had some bite began with a fight and ended 2-2, with Lundqvist making 14 stops.
After Perry crushed Brendan Smith against the boards from behind, Smith returned the favor. The Ducks winger yanked Smith’s stick and they dropped the gloves at 2:07.
Rick Nash opened the scoring after Staal’s pass sprung him down the right side for a two-on-one with Jimmy Vesey. Nash’s hard wrister went through Bernier’s pads and trickled across the goal line at 5:54. It was Nash’s fourth straight game with a goal, his longest streak of the season.
After Lundqvist left a loose rebound on Cam Fowler’s shot in front, Eaves beat Nick Holden to the puck and tied the score at 8:55.
Chris Kreider hit the far post with just over seven minutes left, but the Blueshirts went up 2-1 a short time later. Kreider swiped a puck at mid-ice and sped down ice on a three-on-one to start a tic-tac-toe play with Mats Zuccarello that Stepan finished for his 15th at 14:32.