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Slow start hurts Rangers at the finish

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 22 saves, played another strong game in net despite the final outcome. Lundqvist has allowed only two goals over his last 126 mintues of action.

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The Rangers survived a poor first period on Sunday against the Ottawa Senators, but could not find a way to pull out a victory in the third period once they had righted themselves, and ended up dropping a 3-1 decision at Madison Square Garden.

Ottawa’s Chris Kelly scored all three goals for the visitors, including the game-winner with 2:24 remaining in regulation and an empty-net score with less than a second left on the clock. His teammate, goaltender Pascal Leclaire, also turned in a big-time performance, finishing with 25 saves for a Senators team that earned its first win in four games.

As good as Kelly, Leclaire, and the Senators were on Sunday, all the Rangers focused on following the game was their own lackluster start in the game’s first period.

“The guys were asleep the first 20 minutes, but I thought we played better in the second and third periods,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “Why were we asleep? I don’t have any answers for that.”

Ottawa dictated play and pinned the Rangers back in their own end of the ice for most of the first period. The Sens had the Rangers back on their collective heels right from the first shift of the contest, when team captain Daniel Alfredsson had a glorious scoring chance from in front after only a few seconds had elapsed on the game clock.

Henrik Lundqvist made a sharp save on Alfredsson’s shot and followed with three more saves in the opening 70 seconds of the game as the Senators stormed the Rangers at will.

So dominant was Ottawa that Tortorella felt compelled to use his timeout in order to get his team back on the right track just four minutes into the game.

“I can’t put my finger on one reason why we started like that,” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan. “Unfortunately we did, and we can’t have that. We have to learn from it, correct it, and move forward so that it doesn’t happen again.”

Rangers center Erik Christensen sets a screen in front of Ottawa goalie Pascal Leclaire, who stopped 25 of 26 Rangers shots, allowing only Brandon Prust's shorthanded goal in the second period.
Even after the timeout the Rangers could not gain solid footing against an Ottawa team that had not only played on Saturday night in Buffalo, but had lost a 1-0 decision in a game decided by the shootout. At one point the Rangers were being outshot 9-2 as Lundqvist’s stellar play was the only thing standing in the way of an early Senators lead.

“We’ve been pretty good at starting games this year, but we weren’t anywhere there for a while there (on Sunday),” said Brandon Dubinsky. “Every night is tough to win in this league so we have to make sure we’re ready from the get-go and have a good start. I think it starts from there because the whole momentum builds from that, whether it’s good or bad momentum.”

Somehow the Rangers managed to escape the first period scoreless, and they nearly were able to secure a 1-0 lead, but Derek Stepan’s rising shot off a 3-on-1 rush was barely deflected away by Leclaire with five minutes to play in the period.

The Rangers got back on track in the second period -- taking control of the game and outshooting the Sens 13-8 -- and found themselves in a 1-1 tie entering the third period. The teams exchanged shorthanded goals in the second period with Kelly taking advantage of a Marian Gaborik giveaway for a breakaway score at 4:27, and Brandon Prust answering for the Blueshirts off a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush at 10:50.

Gaborik, who tried to pass the puck back to Stepan near the Rangers blueline on Kelly’s first score, took complete responsibility for the goal.

“I have to make a better play to Step there,” said Gaborik. “I bounced it to him and there’s not much he can do there. I should have made (the puck) flat for him.”

Brian Boyle had an assist on the lone Blueshirts goal. Boyle, who has points in each of his last two games, also led the team with eight faceoff wins.
Despite that miscue, and their poor first period, the Rangers had an excellent opportunity to secure two important points in the standings heading into the final 20 minutes of play. Facing a tired team, and having survived their best punches, the Blueshirts seemed poised to find a way to beat this Eastern Conference foe.

“It was still a winnable game, and that’s what is so hard about it because as poorly as we started I thought we regrouped and it was still a winnable game, but we couldn’t get it done,” said Tortorella.

The Rangers were awarded two power plays in the opening 5:44 of the third period, but failed to score despite good puck movement and five shots on goal in total. Those missed opportunities certainly came back to haunt the home team when Kelly took advantage of a blown coverage deep in the Rangers end to score the go-ahead goal with just 2:24 left to play.

“You could sense it that when we couldn’t score that second goal that something was going to happen,” explained Tortorella. “So we lose a hockey game, and a very important one, too.”

Lundqvist, the Rangers’ most solid and consistent contributor on Sunday, finished with 22 saves, including 10 in the opening period.

“That late goal is a tough one because we feel like we should have a point here,” said Lundqvist. “But we’ll have another chance against them in a couple days when we play them up in Ottawa, so we’ll have to bounce back with a better game.”

The Rangers and Senators will conclude this extended home-and-home set on Thursday up in Ottawa, where the Rangers will be seeking their league-leading 11th road victory of the season.
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