ST. PAUL, Minn. — Henrik Lundqvist has been the voice of reason all season in the Rangers’ locker room, reminding everyone that the current team is young and rebuilding and can’t be expected to challenge for a playoff spot, much less a Stanley Cup, anytime soon.
But it’s getting harder for Lundqvist to maintain that perspective as the 2018-19 season spirals toward an ugly finish.
Saturday night’s 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild closed out a 0-3-1 road trip that dropped the Rangers (28-31-13) to 2-6-5 in their last 13 games.
“The losses have been piling up,’’ Lundqvist said Friday before a 5-1 loss to the Flames. “It’s a test for all of us to stay the course, stay focused on what you can do to help the team. There’s just no other way. You try to just focus on your own game and how you can help the team. That’s all I can say.’’
Before Saturday’s game, coach David Quinn said he expected a better effort from his team than it produced against Calgary. In that game, Quinn said, he could see the team had “caved’’ to the reality that the season will be over in three weeks. After Saturday’s game, Quinn said he thought the Rangers played with “a lot more energy’’ and “did a lot more good things.’’
“But we’re really sloppy right now with the puck in our end,’’ he said. “We cause a lot of our own problems with our puck management, some of the things we’re trying to do. Too often, we’re getting pucks in our own end and we’re hoping it goes to one of our teammates, or it gets to the next zone.’’
Quinn didn’t name names, but rookie Filip Chytil had a dreadful shift late in the first period. With the score tied at 1, he gave up a breakaway to Jason Zucker that Lundqvist saved. Then Chytil turned the puck over twice, with the second leading directly to a shot by Luke Kunin that was tipped in by Ryan Donato for his second goal of the game and a 2-1 lead at 16:05.
“You have to be smart,’’ Lundqvist said, “and I felt like a couple of goals today, we just forced plays that were not really there. And in this league, it costs you.’’
The Rangers had tied the score at 1-1 at 6:00 of the first period when Mika Zibanejad’s crazy shot from out of the right corner boards went in for his first goal in nine games and his career-high 28th.
Former Ranger Eric Staal’s 20th goal gave the Wild a 3-1 lead. Staal, the older brother of Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, scored when his two-on-one pass deflected off the stick of Rangers defenseman Neal Pionk and in at 4:51 of the second.
Jared Spurgeon’s power-play goal at 6:06 of the third made it 4-1 before Pavel Buchnevich scored on a breakaway to pull the Rangers within 4-2. J.T. Brown’s empty-net goal iced it.
Lundqvist, who is splitting time in goal these days with Alexandar Georgiev, made 41 saves. Given how well Georgiev has played in his extended look, it is fair to wonder what the future holds for Lundqvist, who has been the Rangers’ unquestioned No. 1 goalie since about a month after he arrived from Sweden in 2005 and is under contract for two more seasons.
Lundqvist, 37, won’t speak about what he thinks his role might look like next season.
“I want to finish this season before I start thinking about next season,’’ he said. “When the season is over, you’ve got to analyze it. What can I do better? You can’t worry about what’s going to happen next year. Not now.’’