For the sake of team morale, the Rangers needed to get back into the win column after two tough losses, but another two-goal lead slipped through their fingers.
The Islanders scored three times in the third period to rally and hand the Rangers a 4-3 loss — their third in a row — Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. It was the kind of ending to a game that can take the air out of a team. The kind that can sting for just a bit longer than other regular-season losses.
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said he was pleased with his team’s overall effort despite the loss, but the final frame was a mixed bag of occurrences that allowed the Islanders to hit the home team where it hurt: on the scoreboard.
“We played well, we deserved the game tonight,” Gallant said. “We didn’t get it, we deserved the game tonight. Played well enough. I liked the way we played, competed, battled hard. The Islanders are the best team in the league in the third period. They found a way to get three goals again in the third. But I liked the way we played most of the game.”
After a strong second period for the Rangers, in which they scored two power-play goals to carry a 3-1 lead into the third, the Islanders didn’t waste any time in piecing together their comeback. Defenseman Adam Pelech scored just 14 seconds (14!) into the third to cut the Rangers’ lead to one, which Gallant admitted caught his team by surprise.
Filip Chytil was then called for hooking later in the third to gift the Islanders a power play. And for the first time this season, the Islanders scored a second goal with the man-advantage in a game, this one off a one-timer from Brock Nelson, to tie the score at three-all at 12:46.
But Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom subsequently got away with a trip on Kaapo Kakko, which led to the go-ahead goal from Islanders captain Anders Lee at 14:30. Gallant wouldn’t get into specifics on what he saw on the Islanders’ last two goals, but it was clear the coach had an opinion on how they unfolded.
“Obviously after a loss there’s a sense of urgency, but I can’t say that when you’re leading 3-1 you feel a lot of stress,” Artemi Panarin, who recorded assists on the Rangers’ second and third goals while on the power play in the second period, said with the help of an interpreter. “After the last few games, where you’re trying to do well but you’re game is just not up to par, definitely a bit stressful.
“We have a good team, good captain, we just need a few good games to turn it all around.”
Amid a 6-5-3 start to the season, there’s certainly a growing sense of urgency in the Rangers’ locker room. Talk of team confidence and working through the current adversity have dominated the conversations as of late.
A lot of this game, Vincent Trocheck said after scoring on the power play at 13:37 of the second period, is mental. The Rangers now have to battle through this state of mind.
“It’s a tough start to the season for us,” captain Jacob Trouba said. “We’re going to keep working through it. We’ve got a lot of games left here, but I don’t think it’s lost on anybody the start we’ve had. Time is a tickin’. We don’t have all the time in the world here, but we got to find a way to play a better game.”