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Henrik Lundqvist pulled again, Rangers’ struggles continue in loss to Senators

Senators defenseman Johnny Oduya scores on Rangers goaltender

Senators defenseman Johnny Oduya scores on Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist during the first period on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 in Ottawa, Ontario. Credit: The Canadian Press via AP / Fred Chartrand

OTTAWA, Ontario — Maybe the Rangers can change their fortunes with a visit from the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, because Saturday’s game wasn’t the start of any turnaround.

The Ottawa Senators chased Henrik Lundqvist from the net eight minutes into the third period and beat the Rangers, 6-3. The Blueshirts have lost three straight.

Former Ranger Derick Brassard had a goal and two assists for Ottawa.

If you’re still counting, that’s six wins in the past 20 games for the Rangers since the Winter Classic. They trail the Islanders by five points for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

“It wasn’t a real clean defensive zone tonight, and just have to do a little better job protecting [the puck] inside and protecting the house,” Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei said.

The Rangers’ demise began with the second shift. Mark Stone was left all alone in the slot, took a behind-the-net pass from Brassard and beat Lundqvist at 1:03 of the first period.

Things didn’t get much better from there for the Rangers. Johnny Oduya snuck in from the point and was all alone at the right faceoff circle when he took a pass from Erik Karlsson and beat Lundqvist at 12:07.

“It’s a tough situation right now. I think we’re doing a lot of good things, but I also feel we’re beating ourselves,” Lundqvist said. “There’s plays where we’re there but we’re not. Until we fix that, we’re not going to win a lot of games . . . You can look at the goalie and say he needs to make more saves, but . . . I have stretches where I feel I can play better, but I feel I’m tracking the puck pretty good . . . but clearly it’s not enough.”

The Rangers got one back before the end of the period as Michael Grabner scored the first of his two goals (24th and 25th), but goals by Matt Duchene and Brassard and one from the Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad put the Blueshirts in a 4-2 hole after two periods.

Zibanejad’s goal was the prettiest of the game. He used his speed to split the Ottawa defense, got to the loose puck just ahead of a poke check from Senators goaltender Craig Anderson and slid a backhand into the empty net.

Thomas Chabot scored on a wraparound that went off Nick Holden’s skate at 7:37 of the third period to give the Senators a 5-2 lead and spell the end of Lundqvist, who faced 27 shots. “Just to give him a break,’’ coach Alain Vigneault said of pulling Lundqvist. “We have a game at noon [Sunday] and we were down by three at that point and just rest him up for tomorrow.”

Brandon Halverson came on in relief and stopped five of the six shots he faced. Magnus Paajarvi beat him at 17:15.

“Guys just not bringing their best is something that we’ve got to try to fix,” Rick Nash said after stating that some negativity is creeping into the room. “I wish we had an answer for you guys because we talk about it before every single game. Come out strong, keep it simple early, have a great start. We’re just not performing good enough.”

Notes & quotes: Captain Ryan McDonagh missed his fifth straight game Saturday with an upper-body injury. Alexandar Georgiev missed another opportunity to get his first NHL start because he remained out with the flu. Cody McLeod also was scratched.

New York Sports