COLUMBUS, Ohio — The last time the Rangers started a season 1-4 was in October 2013, when the $1-billion renovation of Madison Square Garden was wrapping up and they played nine straight games on the road. They finished that journey 3-6.
This year’s edition of the Blueshirts matched that opening streak of futility, losing to the Blue Jackets, 3-1, at Nationwide Arena Friday night to drop their record to 1-4.
“We can’t start panicking,” Mats Zuccarello said, “but to win hockey games, we’ve got to play better.”
The game-winner came from left wing Artemi Panarin, his first as a Blue Jacket after being acquired from Chicago in the offseason. Panarin skated around Kevin Hayes at mid-ice, then cut inside Kevin Shattenkirk and beat Henrik Lundqvist through the pads from the slot at 7:25 of the third period for a 2-1 edge. Lundqvist made 40 saves and kept the Rangers in it.
“We have to clean up the turnovers, they’re killing us. We worked really hard on special teams, the intensity’s out there,” Lundqvist said. “We had our chances in the second, but they get a late one, bad bounce.”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault’s plan of juggling the second, third and fourth lines to try to create some chemistry and production failed. And the power play which had scored five of the 10 goals in the first four games, was blanked in four opportunities, including the last with 2:15 left in regulation. Lucas Sedlak’s empty netter in the final seconds wrapped it up.
“We didn’t play 60 minutes,” Vigneault said. “They get that first goal that deflected off us and we didn’t respond well in the third period. They totally dominated us. Every line seems to have one guy fighting it, one guy just playing OK and that’s not good enough.”
John Tortorella, the former Rangers coach now with Columbus said, “In the third, I think we played one of our best periods of the season. But that game could be out of sight if we don’t have the goaltending.”
The Blue Jackets (3-1) tied the score at 1 after 40 minutes when Seth Jones’ shot from along the right boards deflected off Mika Zibanejad’s knee and sailed high over Lundqvist with 46 seconds left in the second period.
Hayes had given the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the first. The center was whistled for a slash in the Blueshirts’ zone at 12:27, but the Rangers’ penalty-kill, especially defenseman Brendan Smith, helped limit the Jackets to two shots.
When Hayes skated out of the box, Jones made a ghastly giveaway near his blue line and Hayes went to the slot and zipped in his first of the season, firing low glove side past Sergei Bobrovsky.
Just 27 seconds into the game. the Jackets had a goal disallowed. Matt Calvert shouldered Lundqvist in the blue paint as a shot went in. But the Rangers challenged and won, with the review clearly showing interference. The Rangers had a power play at 51 seconds, which failed to cash in.
Play was fairly even, if sometimes ragged in the period, until the last two minutes, when the Jackets buzzed and had the Rangers hemmed in. Lundqvist stopped two open shots, another went wide and another was blocked. Former Blue Jacket Rick Nash, who had asked for a trade before being sent to the Rangers in July 2012, remained a target and was booed every time he touched the puck.
Special teams made the difference in the second, with each club turning away two power plays, first on an Alexander Wennberg hook, then a Ryan McDonagh slash after an ill-advised drop pass that was scooped up by Nick Foligno. Lucas Sedlak went off for tripping at 10:41 and Paul Carey went off at 14:03 for holding. So both teams were 0-for-3 at that point.
Lundqvist had made 28 saves after two periods, Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina Trophy last season, 24.
“We’ve all got to stick together,” Nash said. “This is when you get a character check. It’s easy for guys to start pointing fingers. Good teams stick together.”
Notes & quotes. Ondrej Pavelec (0-1, 4.75, .875) gets his first start for Rangers against the Devils Saturday at the Garden. He had replaced Lundqvist after the first period in Toronto . . . Defensemen Tony DeAngelo and Steven Kampfer and right wing Jesper Fast were healthy scratches . . . Zibanejad’s four-game goal-scoring streak ended. He would have been the first Ranger to ever score goals in each of the first five games of the season.