ST. PAUL, Minn. — Vinni Lettieri said it before the game against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday: Opponents think the Rangers will be “a little soft.”
Well at least through the first several minutes at Xcel Energy Center, the Rangers did little to dispel that notion, slipping to a three-goal deficit and at one point having fewer shots at two than the Wild had goals at three.
And despite a valiant comeback effort, the Ranges eventually fell, 3-2, to snap their win streak at two after emerging from a stretch in which they lost seven of eight.
Coach Alain Vigneault said the problem wasn’t necessarily his team’s start.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Vig neault said. “For the first three minutes of the first, we did exactly what we wanted to do: up-and-in, make their Ds turn. And then for a little stretch there, we had five or six turnovers, a little bad puck luck on their second goal . . . We had a little bit of time where we made a couple plays that we shouldn’t have, but we battled.”
Maybe that’s where some experience might have helped, as four of the Rangers’ six defensemen had limited NHL resumes. The Wild scored at 3:09 and 4:34 of the first period, both off steals. Center Eric Staal tallied the first score on the first shot of the game, robbing defenseman Nick Holden in the neutral zone. Zach Parise scored the second after taking it away from Rick Nash. Marcus Foligno scored at 6:17 to make it three unanswered goals.
“Just not going North-South, I said, more East-West, bringing pucks back in our zone, and that third goal I skated over the puck and missed it,” defenseman Brady Skjei said of what went wrong early. “Just a few self-inflicted wounds that can’t happen. They went three up. But I thought our second and third period were really strong, and I thought we were playing, getting pucks behind their defensemen, and we definitely did have our looks tonight, just couldn’t capitalize on them.”
A young defenseman actually started the rally. Rookie John Gilmour scored his first NHL goal, a one-timer, at 8:50 on the power play. In the second period, Kevin Hayes scored on another power play at 11:46, with rookie defenseman Neal Pionk getting an assist for his first NHL point.
Though it wasn’t enough in the end, Henrik Lundqvist, who made 26 saves, still said he thought those young guys played “really well.”
“Obviously, our first five to eight minutes was not great, but it was not on them,” Lundqvist said. “Every guy that’s been coming in here has been helping the team be a better team. I’m impressed with the way they handle themselves. It’s a big thing to play your first couple games for sure. We’re in a tough spot, they’re doing their best to help this group right now, and I like it.”
Notes & quotes: The Rangers announced that Steven Kampfer would be out four to six weeks with a fractured hand, joining Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Kevin Shattenkirk among injured defensemen. Ryan Sproul, 25, was called up from Hartford to replace him. Sproul was obtained in October in a trade from the Detroit Red Wings after undergoing knee surgery in April. Tuesday was his first NHL game since the surgery.