VANCOUVER -- The Rangers saved their very best for last on this weeklong road trip through Canada. That is the heartening part they will take home with them and carry forward. It's also what made the final moments of the trip so bitter to swallow.
"We did almost everything right except score," David Quinn said afterward, and it was a pretty fair summation of a game that was dominated for long stretches by the Blueshirts, but won in the end by the Vancouver Canucks, 2-1, when Tyler Myers scored the tiebreaking goal with just 1:29 left to play.
Before this game, Jesper Fast had said that in the finale of the road trip he and his teammates needed to play with "commitment," and Chris Kreider had said he wanted to see the Rangers "skating for each other, believing in each other, supporting each other" everywhere on the rink.
"You saw it tonight," Quinn said. "Just really unfortunate the way it ended."
"We dominated the third," said Ryan Strome. "If we play like that most games, we're going to win hockey games. But it definitely stings right now."
And so the Rangers were forced to absorb "a heartbreaker," in Marc Staal's words, at the end of their longest stretch of road games this season, the four-game traverse of Canada that began with a dramatic overtime victory in Toronto a week ago. Now they'll get to settle back in at home, with 10 of their next 13 games at Madison Square Garden, beginning on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche.
Pavel Buchnevich scored the Rangers' goal on Saturday night in the first period, off a steal and dish from Kreider, erasing an early tally from Antoine Roussel and forging a tie that would carry through 51 minutes and 32 seconds of game time.
The only reason that tie held even close to that long was the man in goal for the Canucks. Jacob Markstrom had been named on Friday as an injury replacement to the Pacific Division's All-Star team; on Saturday he turned away 36 Ranger shots, including all 14 they threw at him in the third period to match his personal career best with his sixth straight victory.
The Rangers are fine with not seeing Markstrom again this season: He pulled a similar heist back on Oct. 20 at the Garden, when the Rangers dominated that third period against Vancouver, too, only to see Markstrom stop 16 of 17 shots and the Canucks sneak out of New York with a one-goal win. In the teams' two meetings of 2019-20, Markstrom saw 77 shots from the Rangers and turned out 74 of them, a .961 percentage.
The difference this time was that the Rangers jumped on the Canucks from early on, and it didn't seem to faze them remotely that Vancouver was riding a six-game winning streak into the match, and that the Canucks jumped in front after just 1:46 had been played. But a Ranger team that had scored 13 goals in the first three games of this road trip, and 24 over the last six games, couldn't pick the lock on Markstrom more than once on Saturday night.
"He made some great saves," Strome said, "but the zone time was there, the commitment level was, there the chip-and-chase was there. Every line doing it -- young guys, old guys. The D and forwards were connected."
"I certainly loved a lot about our game tonight," Quinn said, "right from the drop of the puck."
Alexandar Georgiev made 25 saves for the Rangers in an impressive bounceback performance for which he was named the game's Third Star. But he had his eyes taken away on the winning goal, and couldn't pick up the shot to his stick side until it was a moment too late.
And as Strome said, the Rangers had all four lines and three pairs going on Saturday night, but if one unit in particular stood out it was the Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Buchnevich trio, which was on top of the Canucks all night long and made a home in the offensive zone. That threesome combined for 10 of the Rangers' 37 shots -- a number that does not include the iron that Kreider and Buchnevich each hit behind Markstrom, in Buchnevich's case pinging the crossbar with just 40 seconds remaining on a shot that would have tied the game.
That line combined, too, on the Rangers' first goal, 7:59 in, which happened because Kreider did not give up on a play. He lost the puck to Chris Tanev in the left-wing corner, but then jumped Tanev to take it back as the Vancouver defenseman tried to lug it clear. Buchnevich, who had just taken a hit at the backboards, went straight to the net-front, and Kreider was able to thread a pass across the crease to him.
"I think that the biggest thing was the way we took away time and space," said Kreider, whose assist was his 13th point in the last 13 games. "In the O zone, in the neutral zone, in the D zone, we were above guys, we were pressuring, we were skating, we were reloading, backchecking, hounding pucks, hard at lines.
"We played a solid road game tonight, and it's just unfortunate that they get that one late because it felt like we were really tilting the ice in the third."
That third period came after the Rangers had finished the second with a crucial kill of a curious penalty -- a faceoff violation that triggers automatically after two Rangers were ejected in succession from the same offensive-zone draw, an rather stunning call with a 1-1 game entering its late stages. It was the last of three Ranger penalty kills in the game to make it 7-for-7 in the last two games of the trip.
That business taken care of, the Rangers then took over the game, but they couldn't take a lead by solving Markstrom just one more time. And with overtime near, Myers got a pass just inside the blue line and shot a floater through traffic, and past a screened Georgiev.
"It really was a kick in the gut to have that shot go in, to play as well as we did in the third and give that up late," Quinn said. "But hey, we've got to fight through some adversity here. I think we can certainly draw from this game to understand what we're going to have to do to have success.
"I think when we step back and let the emotions settle in, I think our guys will be happy with the way we played. We feel good as a staff about the way we looked as a team tonight. The challenge is to do it consistently."
"If we play the rest of our games like that, we'll be fine," said Staal. "We've just got to stick with it, swallow that one, and try to move on."