The New York Rangers appeared to be steaming toward a top seed in the Eastern Conference bracket and a deep run into the playoffs.
And then the bottom fell out. The Rangers have lost five of their last seven games, including consecutive games at home.
Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Penguins have won 11 consecutive games and regained stars Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, who have both recovered from concussions.
So what went wrong with the Blue Shirts? Here are a few of the more obvious problems:
The Rangers are 6-for-60 on the power play over their past 16 games. Subtract the two games against the Islanders – when the Rangers converted 5 of 11 opportunities – and the Rangers are (gulp) 1 for 49 in 14 games.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist hit a tough patch, then caught a flu bug. He returned to action Saturday and played well . . . but not well enough. Prior to this game, King Henrik and his back-up, Martin Biron, combined for a 3.22 goals-against average and a .879 save percentage during an eight-game span.
Injuries disrupted the team. Center Artem Anisimov is sidelined by a shoulder injury. Steve Eminger has been out with an undisclosed injury. Captain Ryan Callahan (bruised foot) and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (hip) returned to action Saturday, but the Rangers still lost to the visiting Avalanche 3-1.
Rangers coach John Tortorella liked how his team played against the Colorado, which got epic goaltending from Semyon Varlamov.
“We want to win and get points, but it’s how we play because we have to get our game back to a consistent mode over the last three weeks,” Tortorella told reporters after the game. “We have to look past the result and at how we played, which was encouraging.”