OTTAWA — The Rangers know how dangerous Ottawa can be. It was the Senators who eliminated the Rangers in the second round of the playoffs in six games last season.
But the Senators haven’t been dangerous lately. Ottawa had lost five in a row and 12 of 13 going into Wednesday night’s matchup at the Canadian Tire Centre. Canada’s frigid capital city was getting cranky.
Henrik Lundqvist made a milestone save, but it wasn’t enough as the Rangers lost to the desperate Senators, 3-2.
Lundqvist picked up his fourth save of the game and 20,000th of his career with 7:18 to go in the first period. Lundqvist became the 15th NHL player to reach 20,000 saves.
But it was the Senators’ third goal that stuck in the King’s craw. Ottawa, already leading 2-1, made it a two-goal game eight seconds into the third period when Zack Smith scored off a pass by Tom Pyatt from behind the Rangers net.
“It’s the winning goal,” Lundqvist said. “It’s the difference. It’s hard to come back from two goals behind. We had a good effort . . . That third goal – that was a killer.”
The Rangers were coming off a disappointing 2-1 shootout loss to Dallas on Monday. Coach Alain Vigneault said the team was still confident — he decided to stay the course and didn’t make any lineup changes.
“I think it had more to do with execution than confidence,” he said. “We gave up an early goal in the first. We gave up an early goal in the third. We know this team well. We know how they defend. There are some plays in front of you that you have to make. Their first two goals, we didn’t make the plays through the neutral zone and that came back to make us pay. There’s no doubt that early goal in the third really hurt us.”
Said Ryan McDonagh: “It’s a game where we thought we had the puck on our stick a lot and were controlling a lot of possession.”
But the Rangers never led. Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson finished with 27 saves.
Ottawa took a 1-0 lead 4:01 into the game after a Rangers giveaway. Mark Stone intercepted a neutral zone pass by Kevin Shattenkirk, skated in and sent the puck across to Bobby Ryan, who beat Lundqvist for only his second goal of the season.
Michael Grabner tied it 3:57 into the second period with his 15th goal off a perfect pass from a patient Mats Zuccarello, who skated in and waited for an opening to feed Grabner in front of goalie Craig Anderson.
The tie lasted until 15:08 of the second when Cody Ceci gave the Senators a 2-1 lead with a wrister off a feed from Matt Duchene.
After Smith made it 3-1, Pavel Buchnevich brought the Rangers to within a goal when he beat Anderson stick side with 15:20 left in the third. But the Rangers were not able to overcome the Senators’ defensive efforts.
“That’s the way they play,” said Lundqvist, who made 27 saves. “It’s not pretty to look at. But they got the win.”
The Rangers may forget this one soon. But Ottawa needed it bad. General manager Pierre Dorion held a “state of the team” news conference about two hours before the puck dropped.
“Our forwards have to score more, our defensemen have to defend better, and our goaltenders have to stop the puck,” Dorion said.
For one night, they did, much to the Rangers’ chagrin.