LOS ANGELES — Since Thanksgiving eve, when they beat the Hurricanes at the Garden for their third win in a row, the Rangers have followed each win with a loss. Including that Nov. 27 game against Carolina, the Rangers are 4-3-1, having alternated wins and losses. In some cases, the wins have been surprising and/or impressive, and sometimes the losses have been just as unexpected and/or deflating.
It happened again Tuesday in Los Angeles, when the Rangers — who were feeling pretty good about themselves after a 5-0 win in Las Vegas in the opener of a four-game Western trip — were humbled in a 3-1 loss to the rebuilding Kings, who are in last place in the Western Conference.
Before the game, Rangers coach David Quinn spoke about his team being in the hunt for a playoff spot, but the loss to the Kings dropped the Rangers five points back of the second wild card position in the East.
Dustin Brown’s goal with 10.1 seconds left gave the Kings the lead in the first period of a sleepy game at a relatively quiet Staples Center, and Tyler Toffoli — whose sharp cross-ice pass had set up Brown’s goal — made it 2-0 midway through the second period.
The Kings were able to shut the Rangers down after that, though Artemi Panarin finally broke the shutout with a six-on-four power play goal with 29.7 seconds left. Adrian Kempe added an empty-netter for L.A.
The loss was a major downer after the high of beating Vegas on Sunday. Similarly, Friday’s 2-1 home loss to Montreal, where the winning goal was scored with 1:07 left, also was a bummer on a night the Rangers played much better than they had the previous night, when Alex Georgiev’s 45 saves stole a 3-2 win for them in Columbus.
Tuesday night, Quinn rationalized that sometimes you just have to accept that the bottom-line record (15-12-3, 33 points) usually is fair.
“At the end of the day, I think your record is what it is, and it usually evens out,’’ Quinn said. “So, probably the hockey gods [are] righting wrongs.’’
Chris Kreider, who assisted on Panarin’s goal with a nifty flick-on pass from the goal crease to the low slot, insisted that the Rangers’ win-one-lose-one trend is different than it was earlier in the season.
“It’s not quite the same, where early on in the year we’d play a really good game we felt good about, and then… we’d get away from our structure, get away from the smart work that put us in the position to win the game prior, and get our teeth kicked in after playing some pretty good games and winning against some pretty good teams,’’ Kreider said. “But now it feels like our structure’s been a lot better, [and] now it’s just taking the next step: pucks to the net — especially a team like that that’s so good in the neutral zone.’’
After Wednesday off, the road trip continues Thursday in San Jose against the Sharks, when the Rangers will once again try to bounce back after a loss. They’ve gone 8-1 in the games following their last nine losses.