ANAHEIM -- The Rangers can look back on this four-game Western road trip they just completed and on a rational level point to a week filled with far more good than bad, and more points earned than left behind.
But in the immediate aftermath of grabbing one point out of a road-trip finale in which they had two points in their grasp, the Rangers were, understandably, operating on an emotional level. For 65 minutes of hockey they never trailed on Saturday afternoon at Honda Center, which is one reason they found it hard to swallow leaving there with the single point out of a 4-3 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks. It sent them to their airplane home with a 2-1-1 record and five points out of the eight available on their weeklong West Coast trip.
"We were ready to play, and we wanted six points, we really did," David Quinn said. "We wanted six points, but I guess taking five isn't a bad trip."
It's one that started with a shutout romp in Las Vegas last Sunday, and ended here with a shootout defeat here on Saturday. In between the Rangers received scoring from up and down their lineup early on, and a torrent of it from their best players toward the end, including a finale in which Mika Zibanejad did everything he could to put the Rangers on his shoulders.
Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin had spent the third period of Thursday's victory in San Jose playing tug-o-war for the spotlight, and to say they picked up where they left off right from the drop of the puck on Saturday is no exaggeration. Zibanejad put the Rangers ahead a mere 10 seconds into the game, missing the franchise record by one tick of the clock, and once again not to be outdone, Panarin -- fresh off his first hat trick as a Ranger -- followed right along to put the Blueshirts ahead 2-0 after just 3:59.
Zibanejad's tally was his first of two on the afternoon, his second straight game with a pair, and in all, Zibanejad and Panarin have combined for eight goals -- four apiece -- over the last two games, including the last seven that the Rangers have scored.
But Anaheim fought back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2: after Zibanejad had put the visitors ahead early in the third period, Hampus Lindholm's power-play goal with 1:46 to play tied the score and was enough to get it to a four-round shootout, in which Zibanejad was the only Ranger who could solve John Gibson.
Gibson finished with 30 saves for Anaheim; Henrik Lundqvist stopped 39 shots in the Ranger nets, the eighth time in 18 starts this season that Lundqvist has had 35 or more saves. After the Ducks tied the score early in the second period, Lundqvist was the reason the Rangers escaped the frame still on even terms, turning out 17 straight Anaheim shots in the period.
Afterward, though, the goaltender was nothing but frustrated with the shot through a screen from his countryman Lindholm, one he had trouble tracking off the stick. "It became a reaction shot. Most shots you read, but that became a reaction shot and I was just too slow to pick it up," Lundqvist said. "So right now it's very disappointing."
"He made some big saves for us. Knowing him the way I do, I know he probably wants to make one more," said Quinn. "But he made some big saves when we needed it -- it could have been 3 or 4-2 during the course of that second period, and I just wish we were able to play better for him in that second period."
Quinn said he didn't feel like his team's second-period lull had anything to do with the fact that they were on period No. 11 of a weeklong trip, given how strong they came out in the first and how well they rebounded in the third. The start, in fact, could not have been more ideal, with Ducks defenseman Josh Manson gift-wrapping a breakaway for Zibanejad with a pass into the middle of the ice, and Zibanejad unwrapping it with a sweet forehand-backhand move to beat Gibson.
Minutes later Ryan Strome read Gibson's rim-around and fed off the wall to Panarin, who pivoted at the left dot and wired a wrister inside the far post -- giving him goals in four straight games overall, six goals in that span, and a team-leading 19 on the season.
Jakob Silfverberg's tip of Lindholm's left-point shot got one back at 8:53 -- the first of two power-play goals for the Ducks on a day in which Quinn said "special teams were the deciding factor" -- and then Erik Gudbranson tied it 1:02 into the second, following up Adam Henrique's 1-on-1 with Lundqvist.
With Lundqvist carrying that tie into second intermission, the Rangers came out a different team in the third, and Zibanejad reclaimed the lead after just 1:14. He took a lead pass from Tony DeAngelo and cut around Cam Fowler, flipping a forehand through Gibson just as the goaltender went to poke at the puck. "That third period was a good one," Quinn said. "And we didn't stop once we made it 3-2."
Zibanejad now has seven goals and 10 points in the 10 games since his return from a monthlong absence because of an upper-body injury. "He's starting to really find his groove and look like he did before the injury," said the Head Coach.
Once the game reached overtime, Zibanejad had the game and a hat trick on his stick when he dragged around Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf for a clean look at Gibson, who knocked away the shot with his left shoulder. Zibanejad then got the best of Gibson in the shootout, this time faking his earlier move to the backhand and scoring on the forehand.
But Ondrej Kase scored to keep the Ducks alive in Round 3, then Silfverberg finished the game, and the Rangers' trip, in Round 4. The Blueshirts, now 5-1-2 in their last eight road games, return home for three games at the Garden this week, beginning with a visit from the Nashville Predators on Monday and ending with a rematch with these Ducks next Sunday.
"Anytime you're able to get some points in the NHL, that's always a good thing," said Brendan Lemieux. "But we want to make the playoffs here, and every point we drop just makes it harder for ourselves."
"We battled against a team that played really physical. At times it was really good, and at times we just had to battle," Lundqvist said. "That's what you do a lot of games. It's not going to be perfect, but we managed once again to put ourselves in a spot to earn two points. That's the good thing; the disappointing thing is we didn't get the two."