Back home after a week on the West Coast, the Rangers looked pretty energetic Monday night at the Garden against the visiting — and puzzling — Nashville Predators.
But despite dominating possession in a chippy game, the Rangers couldn’t cash in on a big-time shots-on-goal advantage. After a month of bouncing back from losses with wins, they lost their second straight game, 5-2, and failed to gain ground on the idle Philadelphia Flyers in the chase for the second wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I’m really proud of our guys, the way we competed,’’ coach David Quinn said. “To have the energy we had to compete as hard as we did for 60 minutes says an awful lot. And we just weren’t able to capitalize on our chances, which was disappointing.’’
The Rangers (16-13-4) outshot Nashville 41-24, but second-period goals by Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm put them in a 3-1 hole entering the third period. Artemi Panarin’s 20th goal — extending his goal-scoring streak to five games — pulled them to within 3-2 at 17:18 of the third, but Josi scored into an empty net from behind his own goal line with 1:49 to go and Ryan Ellis added another empty-net goal from the corner with 4.2 seconds left to ice it for Nashville (15-12-5).
Goaltender Alexandar Georgiev started for the fifth time in the last seven games and was only OK, making 19 saves. He had been strong since he and the Rangers rallied from a 4-0 deficit in Montreal to beat the Canadiens, 6-5, on Nov. 23. And while Quinn has gone out of his way to speak highly of 37-year-old Henrik Lundqvist and the way he has played this season (7-7-3, 3.13 GAA, .912 save percentage), he seems to be leaning on Georgiev, 23.
“It’s been a little bit of a quirky situation the last few weeks because of Hank missing a couple of starts and Georgie playing really well,’’ Quinn said at the morning skate. “We certainly acknowledge that we need both of these guys . . . And how many each guy’s going to play, I mean, to me that’s day-to-day. But we certainly feel great about these guys.’’
Pressed on the issue of what determines who starts each game, Quinn said the decision is “schedule-driven a lot of times, but more than anything, it’s play-driven.’’
But Georgiev (9-6-1) was not as good as he had been of late. With the score tied at 1 in the second period, he was beaten by Josi, who cut in from the right-wing boards on the rush and fired a shot that whizzed by Adam Fox and beat Georgiev on the glove side at 10:16 of the period.
“I wish I had that one,’’ Georgiev said. “I can’t say it was an easy game today, but it’s your job. And I wish I made an extra save or two.’’
Nashville opened the scoring at 10:36 of the first period when Rocco Grimaldi’s shot hit Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei in the skate and bounced in while Skjei was battling with a Predators forward in front of the net.
The Rangers got the goal back 34 seconds later. Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider broke into the Nashville zone on a two-on-none and Zibanejad passed to Kreider, who beat Juuse Saros for his eighth goal.
The Rangers had the better of play in the first period and dominated the second period even more, pummeling Saros with shots. They nearly took the lead when Panarin’s shot bounced off a defender, hit a post, bounced off the back of Saros’ leg and appeared to cross the goal line. The referees went to video, which showed the puck spun and stopped before completely crossing the goal line, so no goal.
After Josi scored, the Rangers had a chance to tie it when Mattias Ekholm was sent off for cross-checking. They came close to scoring on the power play but did not, and Ekholm stepped out of the penalty box just in time to skate on to a clearing pass from Nick Bonino, getting the puck in the neutral zone on a breakaway. He scored at 15:23 to make it 3-1.