Back at Madison Square Garden after a pair of losses in French-speaking Canada, the Rangers tried to right the ship Sunday against one of the NHL’s elite teams, the Winnipeg Jets. And for two periods, led by Henrik Lundqvist, they somehow managed to rope-a-dope their way to a surprising three-goal lead.
But an untimely penalty early in the third period opened the door for the high-flying Jets, who took full advantage. They stormed their way to three third-period goals and forced overtime before ultimately beating the Rangers, 4-3, in a shootout on Vic Hadfield Night.
Mark Scheifele, who had scored the first goal of the game, scored the winner on the final shot of the shootout. The Rangers are 0-2-1 in their last three games and 13-12-3 overall.
“I felt like they owned us,’’ Lundqvist said. “We tried to survive for two periods and then finally they got a goal and they just kept coming. And that’s the feeling we had all game. We tried our best. We got a point, but . . . they were good.’’
With Hadfield’s No. 11 going up to the Garden rafters before the game, the Rangers leaned on the guy whose jersey is likely to be the next one headed for the ceiling. Lundqvist turned aside 24 shots in the first two periods to stymie the Jets (16-8-2).
The Rangers, who mustered only 11 shots in the first 40 minutes, managed to get goals by Jesper Fast in the first period and Marc Staal and Chris Kreider in the second for a 3-0 lead after two periods.
But Brendan Smith took a bad penalty early in the third period, cross-checking the Jets’ Brandon Tanev into the boards. He didn’t immediately get called for a penalty, so Smith cross-checked Tanev again and again until the referees finally sent him off at 1:56.
Fourteen seconds later, Scheifele scored his 16th goal of the season. Jack Roslovic made it 3-2 just 2:26 later.
With the Rangers desperately trying to hang on, Bryan Little buried a rebound with 2:30 left in the third period to tie it. The Jets then outshot the Rangers 8-2 in overtime, and only the work of Lundqvist (39 saves) got the game to the shootout.
Rangers coach David Quinn, who benched Smith for the rest of the game, said he didn’t think his penalty was the game’s turning point.
“Maybe a little bit psychologically, because we had a 3-0 lead,’’ he said. “But we were very opportunistic, and our goalie was outstanding from the drop of the puck, so maybe, but that’s one heck of a hockey team. Probably the best team we’ve seen all year.’’
Notes & quotes: Staal, 31, played in his 789th game as a Ranger — passing former Blueshirts defenseman Dan Girardi (now with Tampa Bay) for ninth place among the team’s skaters — and scored his second goal of the season on a wrister from the right circle after a feed from Ryan Strome . . . The Rangers held Jets sniper Patrik Laine in check. Laine, who entered the game with 21 goals in 25 games, was matched up against the line of Mika Zibanejad, with wingers Fast and Jimmy Vesey, and was hardly noticeable for the first two periods . . . The Rangers, coming off three games in four nights, do not play again until Saturday. They will head to Florida to face the Panthers on Saturday and the Lightning on Monday.