It had been nearly two years since the Winnipeg Jets had managed to score a goal at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers; so long ago in fact, the franchise had a different name: the Atlanta Thrashers. It appeared the Rangers could not have handpicked a more suitable opponent than the Jets to break out of their Nash-less doldrums. But appearances can be deceiving.
After a scoreless first period which consisted of solid play on both ends, there would be a false sense of hope the Thrashers/Jets scoring woes would be extended for yet another game. That sense of hope would quickly evolve into wishful thinking for the New Yorkers.
Almost six minutes into the second period, the floodgates would open and the Rangers injury depleted defense would get soaked. The Jets would quickly solve their problem of not being able to score on Broadway. And, as anyone knows, if you cannot score on Broadway, you cannot score anywhere.
Jets centre Olli Jokinen ripped a shot past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to open the scoring. The Jets capitalized on the Rangers disorganized poor positional defensive play in their end of the ic. With New York defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh sidelined with ailments, the offensive minded Jets were able to exploit the blueshirts being short on the blueline.
Just 67 seconds would elapse after the opening score when Winnipeg star forward Evander Kane would deposit a wicked wrist shot in the top shelf, over the right shoulder of a partially screened Lundqvist, to extend the Jets lead to 2-0. Just like that, a team which could not score a goal in almost two years, scored two in a little over a minute.
However, the Rangers would refuse to lay down this time, as they had in Montreal on Saturday evening. New York was ignited by the inspirational hustling play of captain Ryan Callahan, who answered with a goal, following up on a shot which had trickled across the crease. Prior to his second-effort goal, Callahan also managed to block a couple of shots without a stick during a Jets power play.
The Rangers momentum, generated mostly by Callahan, did not last for long, as Jokinen notched his second goal of the night from the right circle, capitalizing on a rebound opportunity. The play materialized when the Rangers turned the puck over in their own zone. The Rangers had ample opportunity to clear the puck, but ended up coughing up the puck instead. One could literally see Rangers coach John Tortorella’s hair turn grey after this exhibition of futility.
The Rangers defensive breakdown in the middle stanza would mirror the meltdown against the Canadiens on Saturday evening, when they were also burned for three goals. A cascade of boos trickling from the Garden crowd pretty much told the story and the hometown sentiment towards the Jets 3-1 lead after two periods.
To their credit, the Rangers did not let up and narrowed the deficit to one goal 9:17 into the third period. Taylor Pyatt deflected a shot from the right point by Anton Stralman past Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. The elation for Ranger fans would be short-lived.
Just twenty seconds later, the Rangers momentum would once again be stonewalled by a team which could not buy a goal at the Garden the past two seasons. Kane scored his second of the game off a rush, unloading a wrist shot from the right circle which sneaked between Lundqvist’s legs, increasing the Jets lead to 4-2. Lundqvist played Kane’s effort poorly, as it appeared to be a shot which he routinely handles with few issues.
After Kane’s second goal, the Rangers displayed some rare resiliency when Stralman made it a one goal game again on a shot off a rebound. Unfortunately, that would be as close as the Rangers would get as the Jets and Pavelec managed to shut the door in a 4-3 Jets triumph.
In this shortened season, an extended losing streak may be the difference between making it to the playoffs and making it to tee off time. The Rangers, who have now lost all four of their games without Nash, continue their pivotal homestand on Thursday evening when they play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning.