The Rangers did not need to look far Saturday to be reminded of what is still possible for a team outside of the playoff picture around the midway point of the season.
But as they left St. Louis following a 5-2 loss to the Blues, the Rangers were left looking inward, lamenting their self-inflicted wounds instead of the ones laid on them by the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“It was a hockey game, 3-2 in the middle of the second period,” coach David Quinn said. “We make a tough mistake that we certainly can’t make against a team like this and it ends up in the back of our net. We hit a crossbar [that would have] made it 4-3 right before they made it 5-2. Again, we’ve got to get it done.
“Time’s-a-ticking and we can’t just keep hanging our hat on progress. But you gotta start somewhere.”
The Rangers (21-19-4) are banking on the progress soon turning into results, and if they want to become the playoff team they have talked about, they will have a prime chance to prove it starting Monday night against the Islanders at the Garden.
All four games the Rangers have left before the All-Star break are against teams above them in the Metropolitan Division standings — three against the Islanders, who they have yet to face all season, and one against the Blue Jackets. They entered Sunday six points out of a playoff spot and if they are to make any headway — like the Blues did after being in last place on Jan. 3 last year — they will need to stop hurting themselves like they did Saturday.
“That team [the Blues] won the Stanley Cup last year and I know they’re down a few guys, but that team, they’re huge, they take away time and space and they don’t beat themselves,” Quinn said. “That being said, I thought there was a lot more in our game we could have showed [Saturday].”
The Rangers were only officially credited with five turnovers but there were others unaccounted for that proved costly. On the Blues’ first goal — six seconds after a Rangers four-minute power play expired — Tony DeAngelo’s errant pass attempt gave Ivan Barbashev a chance to feed Robert Bortuzzo for a breakaway goal.
On the Blues’ goal that made it 4-2 in the second period, it was Micheal Haley who turned it over before Zach Sanford beat Libor Hajek to a loose puck in the neutral zone, giving way to a two-on-one to beat Henrik Lundqvist.
Every Rangers mistake seemed to turn into a high-quality scoring chance for the Blues.
“Not every time, but a lot of times,” Lundqvist said. “You get pretty impressed when you watch them play because they don’t — there’s almost not a single play where they beat themselves. They’re so patient. You might think you’re holding on to pucks but they don’t give us much in the middle and they just wait for mistakes.”
While Quinn was more positive after the loss, Mika Zibanejad wore his emotions on his sleeve, expressing frustration that the Rangers haven’t been able to get on any kind of a run. They entered Saturday with their fifth pair of back-to-back wins this season, but only once have they been able to turn that into three straight wins.
Now they are back to starting over again.
“As I stand here right now without watching the film, obviously we need to be better, but against a team that won the Stanley Cup last year, I think we’ve made progress,” Quinn said Saturday night. “We just gotta keep building on it, we gotta shake this off and be ready Monday.”
For more on the Rangers, listen to the latest episode of the “Up In The Blue Seats” podcast: