CALGARY -- The Rangers know this much, they possess weapons capable of scoring goals and getting their team back into a hockey game. But for the second straight time on this three-game swing through Western Canada, they found themselves chasing after a game and finding it just out of reach.
Two games in Alberta have produced two wild starts, and as this one at the Saddledome moved along the Rangers twice picked themselves up and climbed back to level ground, but were unable to do it a third time in a 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames. The Blueshirts erased deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 before Thursday night's game was half over, but after a high-scoring first half the Flames found a way to shut it down in the second and keep the game scoreless over the final 31:38 of play.
Jacob Trouba and Fil Chytil scored power-play goals 25 seconds apart in the first period --Trouba's goal the 200th point of his NHL career -- providing a potent response after the Flames had grabbed an early two-goal edge. Kaapo Kakko scored in the second period at the end of a relentless shift by the Rangers' kid line, and part of the fourth multi-point game of Kakko's rookie campaign.
All three points on Kakko's goal came from players age 21 or younger, the assists going to Adam Fox and Brett Howden. That one was Fox's third of the night, a career high in assists and points in his first game facing the team that drafted him 66th overall back in 2016. Fox has five assists in the last two games.
"I mean, obviously the offense is there, and the things we're doing in the O-zone are vastly improved from what we were doing early in the season," said Chris Kreider. "But our D, and our ability to get up the ice, it comes in spurts, and against good teams that leads to turnovers and leads to opportunity the other way."
Johnny Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund took advantage of those opportunities, each scoring in the game's first 7:16, while Derek Ryan and Sean Monahan also scored for Calgary, Monahan's goal breaking the final tie just 2:36 after Kakko's marker and giving the Flames the lead they would see through to the end.
Henrik Lundqvist, who made 25 saves after being perfect in a relief appearance Tuesday, was dealt a harsh hand in the game's early going: Gaudreau scored 4:15 in, Backlund at 7:16, both unassisted on breakaways that were set up when Ranger passes went awry. Backlund's goal came while the Rangers were working with a 5-on-3, a particularly bitter pill.
"It shouldn't happen," said Mika Zibanejad, "it's simple."
"You give up two breakaways to start the game, your 5-on-3 gives up a goal, that really summarizes what our problems were," David Quinn said. "We did a better job in the second period battling back, and obviously that power play in the first, that unit did a heck of a job getting us back in."
That power play went right back to work on that same 5-on-3 and struck twice to get the Rangers right back on even terms. Trouba -- who all night was ready to fire every puck he got, finishing with seven shots on goal, one shy of a career high, on 12 attempts -- got a puck at the left dot and let it rip through a Chytil screen, beating Cam Talbot (24 saves) to the glove side for his sixth goal of the season just 26 seconds after Backlund's goal.
Then just 25 seconds after that, Chytil was right back in front of Talbot when the rebound of Kakko's shot popped knee-high in the air knee-high; Chytil, on his backhand, reached out and tapped it home for his 10th goal.
"That second power-play unit went out and did an unbelievable job to get us back in the game," Kreider said.
"It's tough when you get that kind of start," said Lundqvist. "But we got it back. We played pretty good, especially in the second and third, and gave our ourselves a chance."
Chytil wasn't in on the scoring on all three of the Ranger goals, but he was in on the plays just the same. It was part of a strong night from that young line that Quinn has had together for the past couple of weeks, the 20-year-old Chytil centering the 21-year-old Howden and the 18-year-old Kakko.
"All those guys," Quinn said. "Those guys had a good night tonight -- that line, and I liked (Greg) McKegg's line as well," with Brendan Smith and Steven Fogarty. "Those two lines really did some good things."
With the Rangers trailing 3-2 after one, the second shift of the middle period for Chytil's line kept Calgary hemmed in down low, and after Chytil took a puck straight at the net but was turned out on a stuff attempt, and Kakko fired the rebound over top, Kakko got another chance when Fox fed him up top, and he wired a shot past Talbot at 5:46 that was in and out of the net in a flash.
It was Kakko's seventh goal in 36 games played, the most by any 18-year-old in the League. It leaves him one behind Manny Malhotra for the Rangers franchise record for an 18-year-old, and he already has matched Malhotra's record for points (16).
But the tie his goal forged lasted less than three minutes before Monahan finished off a slick passing play on a Calgary rush, Gaudreau to Noah Hanifin to Monahan in the slot.
The Rangers, who on Tuesday in Edmonton scored four goals in the third period, and five in the game's final 20:26, were hampered in their comeback efforts on this night by going shorthanded three times in the third -- though they might have had a bit more power-play time of their own if Ryan Lindgren, bloodied by a post-whistle punch in the nose from Milan Lucic near the 14-minute mark, could ever get the benefit of the doubt from an official.
"I would like to see us stay out of the box in the third period to give ourselves a much better chance to win," Quinn said. "But I think that was a reflection of, again, where we were all night long."
They will be in Vancouver on Saturday night to finish the trip; after that, 10 of their next 13 games surrounding the All-Star break will be back home at Madison Square Garden.
"I take solace in the ability to generate offense on a consistent basis right now," Kreider said. "This team's got a ton of skill, but it has to be consistent, and it's got to be on the defensive side of the puck."