DENVER---The wheels came off the Rangers tonight, as they allowed four goals in the second period---the most in any period this season---and Henrik Lundqvist was pulled for the first time as the speedy Avalanche dominated the Blueshirts in a 5-1 triumph at Pepsi Center.
Lundqvist allowed three goals on eight shots in the second, with the tipping point a long wrister from Matt Duchene, a goal that gave the Avalanche a 3-0 lead at 12:27, although the defense was backing off the quicker Avalanche forwards all night and couldn't regain their composure in the defensive zone.
Martin Biron relieved Lundqvist and surrendered another long goal, this time from defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk at 15:07 with traffic in front. It was pretty much over at that point for the Rangers, who dropped to 6-3 on the road and 10-9-1 overall and visit Minnesota Saturday.
"Their forwards were better than our forwards, their defensemen were better than our defensemen, their goalie was better than our goalie," said coach John Tortorella. Asked if Lundqvist's play was becoming a concern, he said, "Yes, it is."
In the third, Derek Stepan, who hadn't scored since his opening night hat trick, erased goaltender Craig Anderson's bid for a shutout in his first game back from a knee injury on Oct. 26, at 6:03, after Daniel Winnik, in a play that epitomized the Rangers futility, sped by a falling Dan Girardi in midice and slid a backhander under Biron at 4:58.
It got worse for the Rangers at 6:55 when Brandon Prust, writhing in pain after being checked head first into another Avalanche player by Duchene. He remained on the bench at first, then headed into the locker room. He said afterward that his right leg hit the ice, and he had a charley horse. "If it loosens up," Prust said, "I should be able to play Saturday."
The Rangers had their fifth power play at 9:41, but failed to solve Anderson for the fifth time as the Avalanche continued their stellar defensive effort. "We lost every battle," said Brandon Dubinsky. At 18:58 Sean Avery and Cody McLeod scrapped in front and received anticlimactic 10-minute misconducts.
Ryan Jones opened the decisive second period with a gimme in front at 1:04, as Lundqvist split to stop a shot with his right pad, and had no help in clearing the puck. Kevin Porter tipped Duchene's backhander from the dot over Lundqvist at 7:21. "We needed a couple saves to keep us in the game," said Lundqvist, saying his being pulled "was his (Tortorella's) decision. I've just got to forget about this one and be ready Saturday."
Marian Gaborik, who had 13 goals in 20 previous appearances against the Avalanche, was silent except for the assist on Stepan's goal. Defensemen Michael Del Zotto (minus-4) and Steve Eminger (minus-2) were just two of the struggling blueliners.
"They pretty much dumped every puck," said Marc Staal. "In the second period, they buried us."
Before the bottom fell out, the first period ended scoreless, as the Rangers outshot the Avalanche 9-8. They had been down 5-2. The Rangers seemed to grab momentum after a power play at 11:22 with Brandon Yip off for interference, but Anderson was up to the task, stopping Alex Frolov off a cross-ice feed from Stepan, and then Stepan as well. Staal, who led everyone on the ice with three shots, also came close, with Anderson diving to his right to make the save.
Tortorella's press conference