NEW YORK – With the New York Rangers slumping and their offense stuck in quicksand, the start of a home-and-home series with the rival New York Islanders seemed to be the perfect remedy.
But an uninspired first period in which the Rangers registered just three shots was the launching point for another disastrous performance. Jon Sim scored early and Blake Comeau's insurance goal in the third period was the difference as the Islanders earned a 2-1 road victory at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
It was the eighth loss in nine games for the Rangers, and afterward, coach John Tortorella reached his breaking point and let the expletives fly, less than 24 hours before his team plays the Isles again at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"I'll tell you right now," he said when asked about the lackluster first period, "the thing that's unacceptable about tonight's game, and we're trying to stay positive around here, trying to work a little through it, but when we play like (expletive) like that for 20 minutes, in a game like this, in a back-to-back situation, it's unacceptable. It's simply unacceptable.
"There has to be something done. And we'll see along the way here before (Thursday) night's game, we'll see what we go with. It's just simply unacceptable how we started that game tonight. I wish I could give you a (expletive) explanation, but I can't."
Enver Lisin's goal with 55 seconds remaining pulled the Rangers to within one, but it was too little too late for a team that is well aware of how poorly they are playing. Henrik Lundqvist (26 saves) sounded like a man at the end of his rope after Wednesday's loss.
"To come up short all the time, it's very disappointing," said Lundqvist, who has started 14 of the Rangers' last 15 games. "I'm not tired. I'm just so disappointed that we're not getting the results right now. We play to win. Right now we're not winning. I try to focus on my game right now and try to be good as possible, but it hasn't been enough. I have to try to play even better; one goal or a shutout."
Lundqvist shrugged off the idea of getting redemption Thursday night.
"We had a lot of chances to get that the last couple weeks here to get that, but we haven't faced the challenge yet," Lundqvist said. "What can you do? Obviously I think we all were hoping to respond better. We come up short all the time and it’s not fun.
"We're in a really tough spot here. We have to realize that. To play like that in the first period, it's not acceptable. We have to all look in the mirror right now and see what we can do better to help the team."
The Rangers (14-16-3) are four points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference with more than half the season remaining. They have scored just 16 goals in their last nine games.
Meanwhile, the Islanders (13-14-7) rebounded nicely from Monday's 7-1 home drubbing at the hands of the Florida Panthers.
Sim got the Islanders started in the first period thanks to great hustle and a little luck.
The 32-year-old left wing beat Rangers defenseman Wade Redden to a hard dump-in, leading to offensive pressure for the Islanders. Defenseman Jack Hillen gathered the puck and whipped it toward the crease, where it caromed off Sim's stick and skate and fluttered over Lundqvist. The play was reviewed, but it was determined Sim didn't intentionally direct the puck into the net.
"Hit something, hit me, hit my face," Sim said of doing whatever it took to get his third goal of the season. "It was a good feeling, that's for sure."
For a while, it looked as though Sim's goal at 14:25 of the first period would be the only one the Islanders would need. The Rangers had just one shot on goal through the first 16 minutes of the first period, and when Marian Gaborik and Dan Girardi flipped successive harmless shots – the last of the period for the Blueshirts -- on Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson (25 saves), the MSG crowd delivered a sarcastic cheer.
The Rangers had numerous chances to tie the score during the second period but failed to convert.
Gaborik stashed a rebound through the legs of Roloson, but the puck went wide of the net. Later in the period, Brandon Dubinsky and Gaborik had a 2-on-1, but Gaborik couldn't handle the pass. Sean Avery and Ryan Callahan also had a 2-on-1, but Callahan's shot off a nice Avery feed went harmlessly over the net.
The Islanders had a chance to go up 2-0 during the second period while shorthanded. Ales Kotalik fumbled the puck and fell down at the point, springing Frans Nielsen for a three-line breakaway. He got Lundqvist down to the ice, but Nielsen was denied on his backhand.
Comeau would effectively put the game away with 3:10 left in the third period, ripping a shot past Lundqvist after he left a big rebound Matt Moulson blast off the rush. Lisin's goal made the final minute interesting, but in the end, it was the same old story for the Rangers.
At least they can turn the page on Long Island on Thursday.
"Obviously, the good thing is we do play them tomorrow," Rangers captain Chris Drury said. "We don't have to wait around here for days to think about it or talk about it."