VANCOUVER -- The Rangers haven't stared down many deficits lately that have proved too much for them to overcome. But then, the Rangers really haven't experienced a period this season quite like the second period on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.
The Blueshirts wound up playing half the night two forwards short, and half the second period shorthanded, the result of a pair of ejections coming within 5:22 of one another. Those penalties cost them Chris Kreider and Brendan Lemieux for most of the night, and the 10 minutes in penalties they had to kill in the middle frame turned a fast-paced game on its ear and sent the Rangers hurtling to a 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
With Kreider already out of the game for an elbow, officials compounded the Rangers' predicament and their frustration by assessing a match penalty on Lemieux midway through the game, on a play that was by no measure pleasant or pretty, but also by no means a major penalty.
It happened when Antoine Roussel carried a puck across the low slot and then went off balance, careening toward Lemieux. He took the worst of their collision and went wobbly and awkwardly to the ice - just as the Canucks were scoring a goal, it so happened - staying down until trainers could help him off.
Officials elected not only to dismiss Lemieux from the game but to apply the match penalty, defined by intent to injure.
"I'm not going to comment on whether I thought it was right or wrong," Mika Zibanejad said. "I think you know the answer already."
It was only eight days earlier that Zibanejad received a game misconduct when the Rangers were in Dallas, after he came together with Radek Faksa - a call that was rescinded by sunrise with a mea culpa from the league office.
"No, I didn't get any explanation. You all saw it," David Quinn said of the call against Lemieux. "It gets real tiring talking about these things. But what are you going to do."
It was all the Rangers could do to stop the bleeding by the end of the second and finish with a strong third. But in the context of the game the five-minute stretch of the second period was everything.
Vancouver scored three times in a span of 3:38, once on a power play, once just after the same penalty had expired, and once on a delayed call. Tyler Motte scored the last two of those, his first multigoal game in the NHL, a mere 11 seconds apart in the part of the game that truly sunk the Rangers.
Video: NYR@VAN: Buchnevich puts Rangers on board with PPG
Pavel Buchnevich scored the Rangers' goal on a third-period power play, his third in four games, with Tony DeAngelo and Zibanejad picking up the assists - DeAngelo for the 11th time in his last 14 games - for the Blueshirts, who were hit with 27 penalty minutes in the middle period alone. Brendan Smith was a workhorse, on for 7:11 shorthanded through the opening 40 minutes and once again shuttling between positions with the Rangers short two forwards. Brady Skjei wasn't far behind him, logging 5:46 on penalty kills.
Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves - stopping seven of eight shots on Vancouver power plays as the Canucks had time to fire away in the second.
"It's too bad; I thought we had a really good game going, first period was really strong," said Lundqvist, who was denied in his bid for career win No. 450. "But then we had obviously a stretch in the second period that just changed the whole game. That many penalty minutes."
"You lose two forwards and you're completely out of sync," said Quinn. "You kill 12 minutes of penalties (through) that period - I mean really, you're at an incredible disadvantage.
"I thought we got off to a good start, I liked our pace in the first period, I liked our energy, I thought we had a really good first period. It just completely unraveled in the second."
The defeat dropped the Rangers to 0-1-1 halfway through their four-game road trip, which moves on to Calgary on Friday night. It was just the Rangers' third regulation loss in the last nine games.
This one started with perhaps an uncomfortable omen for the Rangers, going shorthanded just eight seconds into the game when DeAngelo's stick caught Tanner Pearson up high. Once they had that killed off they started gaining their own traction, and it was, coincidentally, Lemieux and Kreider who forced Jacob Markstrom (21 saves) into point-blank stops early and late in the period.
The unraveling began 4:23 into the second, when a forechecking Kreider was finishing a check on Elias Pettersson and came around with his elbow up on the rookie, deemed a major and the game's first ejection. After stopping Pearson's breakaway early in the advantage, Lundqvist couldn't keep out Brock Boeser's 23rd goal from the left dot after four Canucks had combined on the setup.
The Rangers could have lived with escaping the major down only one, but then came those 11 seconds. First Motte reached beyond Lundqvist's left pad to tuck in his breakaway - "the second one bothers me," Lundqvist said of the goal - then Motte blasted a long one home just as Roussel was going down beside the crease - "just a big scramble," the goaltender said.
Before play was restarted at 3-0, Lemieux was gone, too.
"First of all you have to kill off another five minutes, and we lose another forward," Zibanejad said. "We already killed a five-minute major and we lose a guy like Kreids, and then we lose Lemieux too. Just frustrating."
"After we killed off the second five-minute major, I thought we tried to get three goals in one shift, and you just can't do that," Quinn said. "You've just got to be mentally tough enough to keep playing and doing the right things. I thought we got away from doing what we did in the first period.
"But there was an awful lot going on in that period, boy, a lot of frustration setting in; obviously that second five-minute major put us in a different mindset. But we killed it off. Give our guys credit."
The Rangers did have a chance to get back in the mix early in the third with a two-man advantage lasting 1:33, but as Zibanejad described it, "We weren't in sync at all." Buchnevich was able to slice into the lead off Zibanejad's dish on a conventional power play with 9:32 left, but after Quinn brought Lundqvist to the bench with 2:50 to play, Jake Virtanen, playing his 200th NHL game, skated one into the empty net in the last 24.9.
Afterward, Lundqvist's was succinct in his summation.
"Really good first, really good third," he said. "Second was just too tough with those two penalties."