NEW YORK -- When you win five straight and 13 of your past 14 games, there's no doubt you need some bounces along the way.
In the first period at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, the New York Rangers didn't get any breaks against the New York Islanders. It played a huge role in what turned out to be a 3-0 loss.
With a chance to pull within three points of the first-place Islanders in the Metropolitan Division, the Rangers came out buzzing. They were doing all the right things and generated several quality scoring chances, none better than the two they had seconds apart late in the first period.
About eight minutes after Mats Zuccarello's one-timer hit the post, Rick Nash made a power move around Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy and let go a wrist shot that beat goalie Jaroslav Halak but hit the far post. The puck caromed right out to the slot for Derick Brassard, who managed to hit each post on his chance.
"It's kind of discouraging when you hit three posts in two seconds, especially in a game like this," Nash said. "Those are the ones you need to go in."
"Sometimes it's going to go in, sometimes it's not," Brassard said. "You just have to reset on the bench right away. When you look at the outcome of the game, maybe it would be a game-changer. Maybe if we had played with the lead, it would have been different. That's hockey. It can't go well all the time for yourself or the team. We just need to bounce back in Boston [on Thursday]."
Instead of having the lead, the Rangers entered the first intermission in a scoreless tie. They were thoroughly dominated in the second period, which was capped by Frans Nielsen's shorthanded goal with 40.9 seconds to go that made it a three-goal game. The Rangers were outshot 19-12 and starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist (29 saves) was pulled in favor of Cam Talbot to start the third period.
"I guess it set the tone for this game," Lundqvist said of the missed chances in the opening period. "It was unbelievable that puck didn't go in. Three posts in three seconds … but they played really well. They deserved this win, no question. They had the speed and they did the little things a little bit better than we did. They earned it."
But with a little luck Tuesday, perhaps things would have gone differently. Perhaps the Islanders, who had 13 shots of their own in the first period, would have allowed frustration to set in had Zuccarello, Nash or Brassard hit twine rather than iron.
After having the bounces go their way for several weeks, they didn't for the Rangers on Tuesday. Suddenly, despite that remarkable run, the Rangers are seven points behind the Islanders (who now sit atop the Eastern Conference) instead of three, albeit with three games in hand.
There are enough veterans in the Rangers' dressing room who know there will be games like this one. But with a chance to close the gap in the standings, the timing was terrible.
"There's no telling. Who knows?" defenseman Dan Boyle said when asked if the outcome would have been different had any of those shots not hit posts. "It could have possibly changed the game, but that's speculating. It's not going to really do us any good right now.
"You're not going to win every night, that's obvious. They were just the better team tonight. They were faster and more energetic than we were. We were just a step behind all night."