Facing the Ottawa Senators -- dead last in the Eastern Conference -- with a pivotal four-game road trip on the horizon, the Rangers put forth a lackluster effort that lacked any discernible signs of energy in a 2-1 shootout loss at Madison Square Garden.
The only saving grace was Brandon Prust's early third-period goal that tied the score and helped push the game to overtime, giving the Rangers a much-needed point. Defenseman Erik Karlsson scored in the fifth round of the shootout to give the Senators their sixth victory in nine games and prevent the Rangers from improving their playoff position.
The Rangers struggled to a 1-0 victory against Florida on Tuesday, but the team had jump against the rebuilding Panthers. The showing on Thursday was so bad that forward Ryan Callahan said the team was fortunate just to get a point.
"We didn't have the effort we needed right from the start," Callahan said. "I thought we were pretty lucky to get a point out of it. Our second effort wasn't where we needed it to be. This time of year, we're battling for the playoffs. We got to get a little more desperate than we were tonight."
The loss snapped the Rangers' five-game winning streak, but the point moved them within two of the sixth-place Montreal Canadiens, who lost 7-0 to the Bruins in Boston on Tuesday. The Rangers have a four-point edge on the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres and a seven-point lead on the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes, but both of those teams have two games in hand on the Rangers.
Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, back after a three-game absence with a lower-body injury, made 29 saves and was 5-for-5 in the shootout. He was barely tested during the first two periods by the lethargic Rangers, who fired just 14 shots on goal.
"We've got a lot of pride in our room," Anderson said. "You want to finish strong. It doesn't matter happened through the first 60 games or so."
After living dangerously most of the game, Ryan Shannon made the Rangers pay with his 10th goal of the season at 15:21 of the second period. He whipped a quick shot through goaltender Henrik Lundqvist off a 3-on-2 rush to put the Senators on top 1-0.
In the shootout, Anderson made the extra stop.
"For me, it was great to get the win," Anderson said. "Guys did a great job cleaning up any junk I left laying there."
Rangers defenseman Marc Staal had an assist in his first game back from an undisclosed injury but admitted to not feeling as fresh as usual. He also wasn't happy about his team's failure to respond until the Rangers were in a 1-0 hole.
"It took them scoring to jolt us awake and start playing," Staal said before talking about the challenges of facing a non-playoff contender. "Sometimes they're a little bit harder games to get up for. We know we have to have the win and sometimes that plays against you a little bit in preparing. We did end up getting a point and you never really know -- that could be a really big point going down the stretch."
Vinny Prospal concurred about the team lacking drive against the Sens.
"It was just sleeping," Prospal said. "It was just a game we didn't have energy to generate anything. We battled back and got that point. That is the only good thing."
The Rangers start a four-game road trip in Boston on Saturday and will also face the Sabres, Islanders and Flyers. It's not exactly the type of travel that will lead to a lot of frequent flyer miles, but they are four tough games that could decide if the Rangers miss the playoffs for a second straight season or get back into the postseason.
"This team will respond," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "They haven't played many bad ones. They haven't played without energy many times this year. Tonight, we steal a point. We take the point, stuff it in your back pocket and move by this and get ready for a team that just spanked Montreal."
"It's a tough one," Callahan said, "but we have to put it behind us and move on here."
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