Ondrej Pavelec’s finest performance of the season was wasted except for salvaging a point.
Pavelec made 44 saves in 65 minutes, but the Rangers were sluggish and strangely emotionless for two-thirds of Monday night’s game at Madison Square Garden, a 2-1 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars.
After four straight games against Metropolitan Division opponents, the Rangers sank with a thud in the first two periods. They were outshot 33-10 and were in the game solely because of Pavelec. In his fifth start, he allowed only one goal, on an uncontested slapper by defenseman Julius Honka at 6:30 of the second period.
Brady Skjei’s shot caromed off Rick Nash’s leg in front to tie the score with 3:41 left in regulation, as Stars coach Ken Hitchcock’s challenge for goaltender interference was denied.
In the shootout, Alexander Radulov and Jason Spezza scored for the Stars and Mats Zuccarello had the lone goal against Kari Lehtonen.
“I think everyone in here knows that was embarrassing for two periods,” Zuccarello said. “They smacked us around. We didn’t win one battle. We weren’t first on the puck.
“It was unacceptable for the team that we’re supposed to be. Getting something out of this game was all Pav. We had no business getting something out of this game. We gave it a push in the third. In terms of 60 minutes, that’s below standard.”
Ryan McDonagh said the Stars, who had lost three straight, “were going to be desperate. We didn’t match it. We’re too far into the season to have a game like this. Thankfully, Pavelec was really sharp, and that point was all because of him.”
Pavelec, who came in with a 2-4 record, a 3.45 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage, was impressive. “Tough, tough loss,’’ he said. “I was able to see the puck, the shots from the point. Most of them I saw. They spent a lot of time in our end.”
How dominant were the Stars? After 40 minutes, they had 64 shot attempts — on goal, misses and blocks — to the Rangers’ 23.
The Rangers started poorly again, chasing the Stars because they rarely had the puck in the first period. Pavelec was focused, not flustered, and made 16 stops in his best period of the season. His top saves came on close-in attempts by Remi Elie and Devin Shore with 3:42 left. Earlier, Gemel Smith’s shot rang the crossbar, although it may have grazed Pavelec’s glove.
The Rangers, with five shots on Lehtonen, were flummoxed. They couldn’t sustain a forecheck until the last five minutes of the period.
At the other end of the ice, it was the opposite: 13 Stars had at least one shot, and Spezza, Radulov and Brett Ritchie has especially good looks.
Early in the second, Pavelec handled the puck outside the trapezoid and was whistled for a delay of game at 1:44. The Blueshirts kept the Stars at bay, even after Jesper Fast went off for tripping Jamie Benn and the Stars had a five-on-three for 50 seconds.
In an attempt to get some offense going, Alain Vigneault juggled lines in the third. The Rangers had scored 40 times in the third period this season. They got one, but that wasn’t enough on a frustrating night.