Here’s the deal, Sports Fans of New York: Now that the Jets’ run has ended, and that even the ever-optimistic Sports Section has declared the Knicks’ playoff chances a long shot, the Rangers are our fair city’s last hope for postseason action until October. And right now, the Rangers are, in fact, in a playoff position, one point ahead of the ninth-place Bruins. But they’re looking less and less deserving of a berth every day.
Last night, they ever-so-briefly held a third-period lead over Pittsburgh, to whom they’d lost their last six head-to-head matchups. Artem Anisimov, who hadn’t registered a point in seventeen games, scored twice, giving the Rangers their first goals since last Tuesday. His second goal gave the Rangers a 2–1 lead — one they’d protect for all of 31 seconds.
Evgeni Malkin would score the tying goal just sixteen seconds into a Penguins power play, and AHL call-up Chris Conner would score his second of the night exactly one minute later. Pittsburgh’s power play this season has been as ineffective as the Rangers’ — as of today, both teams are tied at a dreadful 16.4 percent — but last night, special teams made all the difference. Contrast Malkin’s efficient power-play goal with the Rangers’ inability to score on roughly six straight minutes of power-play time to open the third period.
Last night’s 4–2 loss — Pascal Dupuis would add an empty netter to seal it — makes three straight losses for the Blueshirts, and six in the last eight. With so many teams clustered together in the East — more than half the conference has between 52 and 55 points — nothing will be decided until the final weeks of the season. But at that point, the teams on the outside looking in will reflect back on all the points they let slip through their grasp. If the Rangers happen to be one of those teams — not that we necessarily think they will be — they’ll have no shortage of squandered third-period leads to look back on. Add last night’s game to the tally.