If the Rangers fail to make the playoffs for the first time since the lockout, they may look back on this St. Patrick's Eve game as a huge turning point.
Their aimless 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden, coupled with the eighth-place Bruins' 5-2 defeat of the Hurricanes, pushed them deeper into ninth place in the East, three points back of the Bruins, who have a game in hand.
The quick, speedy Canadiens took away time and space and the Rangers (31-30-9) managed just 20 shots on goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Rangers coach John Tortorella counted five or six scoring chances. "We turned the puck over," he said, "then we just chased them around."
With a dozen games left in the season, the Rangers will have to do much more chasing. "We definitely don't want this to be the end of the year," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 32 saves, including 18 in the second period to keep the score tied at 1. "If we want to keep playing, we have to raise our level and play our best hockey down the stretch."