Bumbling Rangers can’t get it together in 5-2 loss to Wild

By on December 18, 2015


Updated: Friday, December 18, 2015, 1:18 AM

Minnesota scores times en route to a one-sided win over the Rangers.Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

Minnesota scores times en route to a one-sided win over the Rangers.

ST. PAUL – Henrik Lundqvist stressed Thursday morning that it’s critical the careening Rangers “don’t accept losing.” His mandate will be pushed to the limit, though, because there is no end in sight to the trend of full meltdowns like Thursday night’s undoing in a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

“We need to look at ourselves, every player, including myself, how to improve, how to be better to help this team to turn it around,” Lundqvist said after coming apart late in a 28-save outing. “It’s puck management, penalties, an extra save when we need it. We need to come together, and it all comes down to focus.” 

Lundqvist replaced injured starter Antti Raanta (head) 13:49 into the first period on a scheduled night off, and the mistake-prone yet hard-working Rangers drew within 2-1 on Dominic Moore’s goal with 8.9 seconds remaining in the second period.

But all it took was one mistake to send the Rangers’ runaway train veering completely off the rails. That’s all it takes these days for a team that is now a paltry 3-7-2 in its last 12 games. This time, it was rookie Brady Skjei’s third-period penalty in his second NHL game and Jason Pominville’s power play goal at 9:38 that jumpstarted a three-goal Wild ambush in the final period.

Confidence clearly is lacking in a team that can’t make one error without coming completely unraveled.

“I don’t think it should be (a lack of confidence) with our group,” said Rick Nash, whose line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello gave the Rangers nothing, with one total shot on goal. “I think we’re a proven team that has won in the past and has been a confident bunch, but I think as you lose more, yeah, that (lack of confidence) could slide in. But we’ve got to make sure we correct it.”

The Rangers surrendered a Canucks goal 30 seconds after Dan Boyle scored in last week’s 2-1 loss in Vancouver. They surrendered consecutive Oilers goals 70 seconds apart in a 7-5 loss in Edmonton. They came apart on two Flames goals in 17 seconds in a 5-4 overtime loss in Calgary. They rebounded briefly Tuesday night with a 4-2 win over the Oilers at the Garden, but any good feeling  disappeared again in a flash.

Thursday night, Pominville’s backbreaker was followed by Wild forward Chris Porter scoring 40 seconds later to make it 4-1 on an unacceptable, short-side backhand that Lundqvist admitted he had to stop. Keith Yandle was fleeced by a Justin Fontaine pass and out of position, leaving Porter all kinds of room to shoot.

“It’s frustrating,” Marc Staal said. “We’re used to knowing how to win hockey games. We’re in that situation going into the third period, we need to score a goal, they end up making the play and we don’t. We’ve got to get back to the mentality that we’re the team that does that. And we’ve got to do that tomorrow (Friday).”

Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh checks Zach Parise during Thursday's loss to the Wild.Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh checks Zach Parise during Thursday’s loss to the Wild.

The Rangers (19-10-4, 42 points) must call up a backup goalie for Friday night’s visit to the Winnipeg Jets, as Raanta is sidelined with a likely concussion after taking a Marco Scandella slap shot off his helmet. The Hartford Wolf Pack’s two roster goalies are Magnus Hellberg and the “Buffalo Killer,” Mackenzie Skapski, who beat the Buffalo Sabres twice last season in his only two career NHL starts.

Alain Vigneault should be more worried about his starting goaltender, though, who lately has not bailed his teammates out like he did during his stellar start to the season: the King is 5-5-1 in his last 11 decisions, including two benchings and five starts where he has surrendered at least five goals, after starting the season 10-2-2 and surrendering a high of three goals only twice.

Mats Zuccarello had vented frustrations to the Daily News after last Saturday night’s loss in Calgary, saying that the Rangers “don’t help each other out,” are “too soft” and need to “look ourselves in the mirror.” Thursday, Lundqvist echoed the Norwegian’s urgency.

“It’s important that you don’t accept losing,” Lundqvist told The News Thursday morning. “It’s important to have that high level and those expectations as a group. That’s how you become a good team. If you accept a bad performance, that’s how you end up in a bad place. That’s what you need, and that’s what I like about us: We have high expectations, and that makes you raise your own level, too, to match that.”

Thursday’s puck management issues snowballed, however, after a Viktor Stalberg turnover that created the opening goal for Wild captain Mikko Koivu (two goals) at 8:27 on Raanta.

The Wild (17-7-6, 40 points) improved to 6-0-3 in their last nine. The Rangers, on the other hand, a team that owned a 53-25-4 road record in Vigneault’s first two seasons, suddenly are 6-6-3 on the road this season, including 0-4-2 in their last six.

And no one, not even Lundqvist, has the answer for how to save them.

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