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The Rangers Picked a Terrible Time to Play Their Worst Game of the Year

Yikes, where to begin? With the big picture stuff, like how two straight losses to the Sabres and Islanders mean that not only has the Rangers' cushion over the ninth-place Hurricanes shrunk to three points, but that both Carolina and Buffalo now have a game in hand, entering the season's penultimate weekend? Or with the specifics of last night's game, in which the Rangers — fighting for their playoff lives — were embarrassed out on Long Island. The Rangers, playing for the second straight night, skated like they were playing for the tenth straight night. Meanwhile, the Islanders, also playing their second game in as many nights, looked as if they'd been preparing for this game for a month. Coming out flat for two thirds of a game against Buffalo is bad enough. But to follow it up with a performance like last night's — well, that's the kind of thing that can go a long way toward sinking a season.

The Rangers didn't play a particularly strong first period, but who knows how the momentum would have shifted if the Blueshirts, already up 1–0, could have capitalized on any one of their power plays late in the first period or early in the second. But they didn't convert, and within a minute of killing off Ty Wishart's high-sticking penalty early in the second period, the Islanders would score the first two of six unanswered goals.

The Rangers' defense in front of their own net was as bad as the power play, a particularly fatal flaw against a team as capable of scoring goals as the Islanders. If you're looking for a positive from this game, at least Henrik Lundqvist, who was replaced by Chad Johnson to start the third, got to rest for a period. (The Islanders would score their fifth and sixth goals in the third, though that period was mostly marked by fighting majors, game misconducts, and John Tortorella's disapproval of the Islanders' tough guys getting ice time late.)

And so once again, the Rangers cannot find the net — their second goal in the 6–2 loss came with fourteen seconds left and accomplished little more than stopping the clock to allow for some more misconduct penalties — and while they're capable of breaking out of such slumps, they have little time to do so. Just four games remain now, and the next two are against division leaders.

The Rangers still control their own destiny — which is to say, if they win out, Carolina can't catch them — but realistically, they'll need to do some scoreboard watching now. The Rangers next play on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia — site of last year's season-ending shootout — but before then, Buffalo plays tomorrow night in Washington, Montreal plays in Newark, and the Hurricanes visit Long Island. So root for these Islanders — and the Devils and Caps, too — this weekend, Rangers fans. The Blueshirts wasted a big opportunity over the past two nights. Now they need the rest of the pack to come up empty, as well.

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Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images