The Rangers desperately wanted to put an exclamation point on a special night at Madison Square Garden. Still, when the details of Friday's hockey game have faded from the mind, the memories of this night will linger with these Blueshirts - a night when they got an up-close, in-person view of exactly what they are striving to build.
With the 1994 Stanley Cup Champions in the house, this current crop of Rangers got a chance to meet with their title-winning predecessors in their pregame locker room, and they were all out on the bench as the Garden crowd gave this legendary team a hero's welcome home.
"It was really cool. I think I had goosebumps for about 95 percent of the time," said Mika Zibanejad. "I was sitting here watching those guys come in, and watching the tribute video and everything, and hearing them speak - it was definitely something that I want to take with me for a very long time, to be part of a night like this.
"Just to see those guys up close - I got a chance to talk to a lot of them before the game and before the ceremony. It was just too bad we couldn't take that great beginning, the ceremony and everything, and finish that on a good note with a win."
That was the overriding sentiment in the Rangers' dressing room following a 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes that including a pair of empty-netters for the visitors. With a scoreless tie carrying into the third, Warren Foegele snapped it after 46:43 had been played, and the Rangers simply couldn't find any openings against a Hurricanes team that improved to 3-0 on their five-game road trip, and also snapped a 16-game losing streak at the Garden.
Henrik Lundqvist made 30 saves in the game but said he had a hard time tracking Foegele's rising shot from in between the hashmarks. His counterpart across the ice, Petr Mrazek, stopped 27 shots for his second shutout this season and 16th of his career - though whatever accolades he took out of this one he should share with Jaccob Slavin, the Carolina defenseman who took three goals away from the Rangers.
"Tough one, because going into the game here I thought we all felt really inspired and excited to play," Lundqvist said. "It's great to see all these guys come in here, and you really get inspired, to see what they went through and accomplished. I think we all want to do the same, experience the same feelings and emotions. I was really excited to play the game and get going, and unfortunately we couldn't get the win."
"I thought it was a great opportunity for our guys to be around something that we're all aspiring to do, win a Cup here in New York," said David Quinn. "This date was announced, it certainly was circled on our schedule, we thought that it would be a great opportunity for our guys to mingle with those guys a little bit, and to get a feel of what it would be like - and what it would take - to win a Stanley Cup in New York."
The Rangers hit the ice on Friday night in their home whites, dressed as they were the night they won the Stanley Cup on this ice surface 25 years ago. And after Mark Messier had addressed the Garden crowd with his '94 teammates in a semicircle behind him, and after the Captain had spoken of how that Cup-winning team was truly a family, it was a John Amirante rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that was shown on the video screens and got the crowd buzzing before faceoff.
At that point, the Rangers, looking to build off of Wednesday's comeback win over Boston, found themselves locked in a game that remained scoreless through the first two periods, during which time Slavin bailed out Mrazek on three separate occasions.
The first came less than four minutes into the game, when he blocked Jimmy Vesey's falling putback try after Mrazek had robbed Pavel Buchnevich from the top of the crease. The most dramatic one came 90 seconds into the second, when the ever-patient Kevin Hayes stickhandled around Mrazek and went to tuck it into the open net, only to have Slavin reach in to swat his try off the goal line. Twelve minutes later Slavin got beat badly by Filip Chytil but placed his stick flat on the ice to prevent Chytil's cross to an open Ryan Strome.
That last one, though, may have been part of what Quinn was referring to when he pointed out that "we passed up a lot of chances to shoot the puck. Spend close to nine minutes in their end in the second period, and you come out with nine shots - to me, you have to have more of a shooting mentality, you have to get inside the hashmarks. We can be too perimeter offensively. That's kind of the takeaway from the second."
Another takeaway from the second was a power play bridging second intermission and lasting 1:11 into the third, but the Rangers struggled for zone time, managing one shot on two power plays in the final 21 minutes - though it was a sparkling chance, Zibanejad left alone in front and Mrazek throwing out the blocker five seconds before the second-period horn. "We got demoralized off our power play and I thought they fed off that kill to start the third," Quinn said, "and we were never able to match what they were doing. Which is disappointing because we'd played well in the third over the last 2½, 3 weeks."
"I thought it was two teams that played pretty solid hockey," Lundqvist said. "We definitely had our looks, especially in the second period. But it came down to one play. Unfortunately we were on the wrong end."
That play came 6:43 into the third, when Foegele found a soft spot in between the hashmarks and Saku Maenalanen slid a backhand pass inside to him, a rookie setting up a rookie for his seventh goal of the season, three of which have come in three games against the Rangers. Andrei Svechnikov and Brock McGinn scored into the empty Ranger net in the final 1:15 to pad the scoreline. The Blueshirts now turn their attention to Sunday's homestand finale when the Toronto Maple Leafs pay their lone visit this season to the Garden.