NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The 5-2 loss to the Predators on Saturday night was discouraging to the fading and battered Rangers, who can’t sink any lower in the Metropolitan Division.
Emotions ran high during the game, the Rangers’ fifth loss in the last six. After Marc Staal and Jimmy Vesey had to leave the ice following unpenalized head shots — one game after Pavel Buchnevich was sidelined with a concussion after a blow to the jaw — the Rangers tried to keep their real feelings on the hits and the officiating under wraps. But some leaked out.
“I thought that’s what they wanted to get rid of,” Mika Zibanejad said of the blows from Alexei Emelin and Filip Forsberg. “The refs see it from their angle, we see it from our own. It’s more sensitive when it happens to one of ours. We get questioned about our game and how we played; they don’t. We’re not allowed to discuss it. It’s discouraging. It’s disappointing when they’re not calling some things. It’s frustrating, but nothing we can control. It took the focus from our game.”
Coach Alain Vigneault, who expects to call up at least one replacement before the Rangers (8-13-2 on the road) play in Dallas on Monday, kept his comments brief. “They were hits to the head, so they [Staal and Vesey] were held off,’’ he said. “It’s very hard to figure certain things out from game to game. I’m going to leave it at that or I’m going to get myself in trouble.’’
The Rangers already were without Chris Kreider (rib resection), Kevin Shattenkirk (torn meniscus) and Buchnevich.
Coupled with the Islanders’ 4-3 win over the Blue Jackets, the Rangers rest at the bottom of the division, stuck at 55 points.
“Overall it stinks, no question about it,” Henrik Lundqvist said. “We’re losing too much, guys are out, but there’s only one way to turn it around: Work really hard and not look for excuses. No question, it’s a tough time for us.”
In the second period, Staal, who has suffered several concussions in the past, left the ice immediately after Emelin jumped and slammed his head into the end boards with his elbow.
At 9:12, Forsberg decked Vesey, who left with his mouth bloodied. He returned to the bench but was shut down after the second intermission. Brady Skjei then dropped the gloves with Ryan Johansen, but the Predators won the bigger battle.
“They [the refs] have a split second, and they have a decision to make. I can’t comment,” J.T. Miller said. “I’m glad I’m not a ref . . . I think we had the right mentality. We played with a ton of emotion, didn’t quit, but we can’t give up goals after we just scored.”
Trailing 2-0 after that nasty second period, the Blueshirts certainly tried to rally with two power-play goals in the third.
Miller, cruising past the net, tipped Mats Zuccarello’s pass past goalie Pekka Rinne only 21 seconds into the period with Mattias Ekholm in the box.
But the Predators soon restored the two-goal lead. Colton Sissons, uncovered between the circles, redirected P.K. Subban’s wide slapper past Lundqvist at 2:36.
Sixteen seconds after Zibanejad’s one-timer trimmed it to 3-2 with 5:25 left, Johansen’s drop pass to Viktor Arvidsson beat a helpless Lundqvist. At 17:56, Kevin Fiala’s empty-netter sealed it.