At his post-practice news conference Thursday, Rangers coach David Quinn was asked if his rebuilding club can take inspiration from the Canadiens, who finished last season well out of the playoffs with 71 points but occupied the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference entering Friday.
“Absolutely,’’ Quinn said before going on to talk about how a small thing here or a break there might have made the difference in the Rangers’ record this season.
As it turned out, a bad break at Madison Square Garden on Friday night might have cost them another game.
With the score tied midway through the second period, a routine dump-in took a crazy bounce off the back boards and the puck went right to the slot, where Joel Armia corralled it and flipped it over Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Armia scored two more goals to complete the hat trick — the third into an empty net — as the Canadiens shrugged off a sluggish first period and an early deficit to beat the Rangers, 4-2.
“It’s a tough bounce, obviously,’’ said Lundqvist, who made 32 saves. “I thought we played such a good game, leading up to maybe their first goal, and then they put us on our heels a little bit. And obviously, the second goal didn’t help our game there . . . This is a game where we played good enough to win. That goal . . . it changed the momentum. Because, after that first, you could see we got a little tense, and they get that bounce on the second goal and it’s a different game after that.’’
Vladislav Namestnikov’s goal at 4:41 of the first period opened the scoring in the game. He has been on a tear since breaking his 23-game goal drought with a pair of goals Feb. 15 in Buffalo, and he had a monster game Friday.
Namestnikov scored his fourth goal in the last eight games when he deflected in a left point shot by defenseman Brady Skjei. After that, he had several more chances to score, finishing with four shots on goal in the period, six through two periods and seven for the game. Plus, another deflection by Namestnikov went just wide.
But goalie Carey Price was on his game when the Canadiens needed him most. He robbed Namestnikov on more than one occasion, and the rest of the Rangers, too, en route to a 28-save performance.
Montreal, which had been outplayed and was looking uninspired in the first period, tied the score when Brendan Gallagher beat Kevin Shattenkirk to the goal crease to deflect in a shot by Tomas Tatar at 7:27 of the second for his 28th goal.
Armia’s bad-bounce goal made it 2-1 at 14:38 of the second period, and his second goal gave Montreal a 3-1 lead at 4:29 of the third.
The Rangers made it 3-2 on Brendan Lemieux’s first goal as a Ranger, but Armia’s empty-netter with 36.7 seconds left finished them.
The Canadiens moved to 35-23-7 and the Rangers fell to 27-27-10, 11 points out of the second wild-card spot.
Quinn called the game “frustrating.’’
“You think that you played a really good 30 minutes and it’s 1-0, and you feel like it could have been a little bit more,’’ he said. “But you’re talking about one of the best goalies in the world and you probably are going to have to bear down a little bit more if you’re going to get one by him.’’