Well, as the saying goes, "you can't win 'em all", and that's obviously how the Rangers should be looking at just their first loss in five games tonight. This was their fourth game in six days, and three of those games were wins over key Eastern Conference opponents, so there surely isn't much shame after this loss. The Blueshirts are still in first place, so not very much changed as a result.
The fact that the Rangers had won four straight games prior to tonight does not disguise the fact that the team played its worst 20 minutes of hockey this season in the first period of this game, though. The defense was bad, Marty Biron was even worse in goal and the offense only managed to generate five shots despite getting three powerplays (one was a double minor). I urged in my pregame that the Blueshirts would have to come out of the gate ready to match the intensity of the Blackhawks, who would be extremely hungry after losing nine consecutive games. The Rangers' performance was far from "intense", however, and it cost them big time.
Chicago first got on the board when captain Jonathan Toews cashed in on a penalty-shot opportunity that was a result of Dan Girardi covering the puck in the crease just 1:05 into the game. A minute latter, Nick Leddy's shot from the point went through Biron and to the back of the net for a 2-0 Blackhawk lead. They weren't done just yet, as back-to-back defensive miscues while pinching gave Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa semi-breakaways, and both of them put shots past Biron, who was as jittery as ever at that point.
Just like that the Rangers found themselves down four goals, but head coach John Tortorella refused to yank the struggling Biron. I was actually seated directly behind the bench tonight, so after the third and fourth goals I watched as assistant coach Mike Sullivan looked at Torts for the sign to swap goalies. Tortorella did not flinch.
Maybe it was best Torts left things as is, because by that way he forced his club to dig themselves out of their own hole. They came out looking as if that was the goal in the second period, because they took complete control of the momentum of the game in the middle fame. Suddenly they were forechecking, backchecking and drawing penalties by moving their feet. Eventually, at 3:04 of the period, Marc Staal scored his first goal of the season through a screen to get the Rangers on the board and cut the deficit to three goals.
Then, in he second half of the period, Ryan Callahan appeared to have scored from his back on the powerplay, but an early whistle on a loose puck nullified the tally to keep the score at 4-1. I think if the Rangers had a chance to mount a comeback in this game, that goal would've had to count because they then would only be down two goals heading into the third. It was a quick whistle, but it was still blown, so even after review, the correct call was made. Tortorella was very displeased with the whistle, though, as he continually chirped the officials for about two minutes after the fact.
Still, the Rangers had four powerplay opportunities in the second and third periods combined, but didn't capitalize on any of them. The powerplay was hot going into this game, but it rapidly cooled off after what we saw with the man advantage tonight. That was some ugly stuff for sure.
Carl Hagelin scored for the Rangers with just 4:45 remaining in regulation, but it was too little too late for the Rangers to make a comeback at that point. It's unfortunate because they definitely had the edge in play in the last two periods; it was the opening twenty minutes that killed them and cost them two points in the standings. Let that be a lesson learned.
This is a tough game to analyze as far as Biron goes, because he did buckle down and play much better after a first period to forget. Allowing three goals on four shots is a stat that will haunt a goaltender in their dreams, but at the same time you must remember that one of those goals was a penalty-shot and two others came on semi-breakaways due to bad pinches by the Ranger defensemen down the other end. I feel that he should've stopped Hossa and Sharp at the very least, though.
And as a side note, very unclassy of the fans to chant Henrik's name while Biron was struggling. Marty is a quality guy, and not to mention chanting against the guy will only make him lose focus more than he already has. I was not happy when I heard this.
Now, besides Biron, I'm not going to analyze individual performances tonight, because it was an overall team loss. There were no excuses for the Rangers to come out as flat as they did in that first period because it was no secret that the Hawks were a desperate hockey club. To take a positive out of a negative, though, the squad did respond very well after the first. They had plenty of opportunities to get back in this game, but going 0-for-7 on the powerplay and then missing several golden scoring chances did not help very much.
In the grand scheme of things, it's just one loss and one that doesn't affect the Rangers as far as the standings go. Forget it and move on to focus for the Blue Jackets on Sunday, which should be an automatic win in my mind.