If you want to say the other night against Carolina was a fluke, maybe not. There were absolutely zero excuses for how pathetic the Rangers were in tonight's 6-2 loss to the Maple Leafs before a disappointed Garden crowd which booed loudly and then quietly filed out as Leafs Nation enjoyed their team's win.
This was a real stinker. 6 GA on just 16 shots with King Henrik permitting four on only 10 before being lifted in favor of backup Steven Valiquette who gave up a couple of more on six shots in the final stanza.
"I don't know the reason," Lundqvist admitted to the AP afterwards. "I know I have to play better. ... The first one was a bad rebound. The other three were not bad goals. I need to work harder in practice and get my game back."
You really couldn't pin this one on the all everything Swedish netminder who has carried his team despite a continued lack of support.
From the very outset, the Blueshirts looked out of synch for the second straight game and they paid for it on the scoreboard almost immediately as Matt Stajan got to a bad rebound on a delayed call 3:30 in. Toronto captain Mats Sundin also was allowed to get to a rebound and stuff one home 7:06 later for a two-goal Leaf lead.
But the Rangers rallied with two power play goals in the last four minutes from D tandem Dan Girardi and Fedor Tyutin to tie the score. Scott Gomez and Chris Drury notched the helpers on each.
The big issue on this night was it was the only instance where Tom Renney's club showed any heart. They then went right back into the tank thanks to a mistimed Marek Malik double minor for high sticking which Leafs' forward Nik Antropov capitalized on steering one home in front en route to a natural hat trick- the gifted Russian's second career trifecta nearly eight years later (Dec. 20, 1999 at Florida as a rookie).
He would deflect home two more finishing off the hat by perfectly tipping home a Pavel Kubina slapper 3:34 into the final stanza for a 5-2 lead.
"Almost exactly eight years," he later noted. "I remember it though."
Oddly enough, after a scorching start, Antropov had gone ice cold for a 10-game stretch but seems to have found the magic touch again notching five goals in his last three.
"It was (10) games without a goal but I didn't think about it a lot. I did pretty much everything the same, it just didn't go in," he said. "Nobody can go the whole the 82 games scoring every game or every second game."
So right he is. These days, Antropov and the resurgent Leafs are winning after all the calls for John Ferguson, Jr. and Paul Maurice's heads. They've now won four in a row and are right back in the mix at 12-11-6 for 30 points, vaulting ahead of the slumping Islanders for eighth in the conference despite three more games played.
Now with 14 goals and 15 helpers for 29 points, the still 27 year-old who the Leafs selected in the first round back in 1998 is starting to untap the potential which once saw his name in rumors such as for Eric Lindros when No.88 was a superstar. Good thing they never did that deal as Lindros eventually spent an injury plagued season in Toronto before retiring just a couple of years later a month prior.
Antropov has never had better than 45 points (16-29-45) in a season and that came back in 2002-03 when the versatile forward played in a career best 72 games.
If the Leafs are to continue their climb up the standings and get back to the postseason, they'll need the gifted Russian in their lineup.
As for the Rangers (15-11-2, 32 pts), they've now been outscored 9-2 in two embarrassing home defeats and must travel to Atlanta for a game tonight against a Thrasher team which has turned it around since GM Don Waddell took over behind the bench for Bob Hartley.
That turnaround began when Atlanta thrashed the Rangers 5-3 in a game which never was a contest on Oct. 18.
So how do you think this suddenly struggling team will deal with league leading finisher Ilya Kovalchuk (23 goals). Gulp. Did we mention Marian Hossa's getting healthy finally and Slava Kozlov is always dangerous?
Yeah. This might not be the right time to play them. But it gets even better because they then return home on football Sunday (why does the league insist on playing games against the NFL) to host the red hot Devils. Can you say disaster?!?!?!?!?! Not literally of course but potentially this could get really bad very quick. And in this conference, you can go from the penthouse to the outhouse in a hurry.
"You always feel good about yourself when you come from behind and tie the hockey game. It didn't help us much," Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr said after being invisible for the second consecutive game. "We know we didn't play very well. Tomorrow we get another chance to prove we are a good hockey club."
Speaking of No.68, why is it that a guy of his calibre seems to take nights off? Is this what you expect of one of the greatest superstars to ever lace'em up?!?!?!?!?!
Tonight, the third period was a perfect opportunity for Jagr to step up and get his team back in it. They were only down two goals against a miserable Leafs' team who wouldn't know the term "defense" if it hit them right in Mats Sundin's cranium. Apologies to Sundin who btw did show up and never seems to stink no matter if his linemates are Jonas Hoglund, Mikael Renberg or Chad Kilger.
He just might be the most overlooked superstar in the game. If only the Leafs had a better blueline.
Jagr is as physically talented as any player in hockey. When he wants to, he can flat out dominate a game like no other. Why is it only in spurts these days? It's certainly not the skating. And it's not the strength cause that's still there in shifts. Is it the willingness to compete daily? Is it a 36 year-old athlete wearing down or not wanting to push his body to the limit during a long 82-game schedule saving it for next Spring?
What if they don't make it? Crazy thought. But in this wacky division and conference, unless you're Ottawa who lately has stunk, you aren't safe.
Now you tell me who's performing up to capabilities out of these forwards?
Jagr- 28 GP, 7 goals, 14 assists, 21 pts
Gomez- 28 GP, 5 goals, 16 assists, 21 pts
Shanahan- 28 GP, 9 goals, 9 assists, 18 pts
Drury- 27 GP, 6 goals, 13 assists, 19 pts
Straka- 13 GP, 2 goals, 4 assists, 6 pts
And I really hate to do this but this problem actually goes a little further:
Prucha- 28 GP, 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 pts, 37 lousy shots
Hossa- 24 GP, 0 goals, 5 assists, 5 pts, 32 SOG and plenty of spin-a-ramas
Callahan- 12 GP, 1 goal, that's it
I will exclude the fourth line cause they never dog it. Yeah. They have hands of stone but those guys are the only ones who really tried the last two games.
And what's more? The Rangers suddenly have dropped four of their last five at the Garden. That can't continue.
Neither can Girardi's blunders which are becoming Malik-esque. Two more giveaways tonight led directly to two Leafs' goals. Is the kid tired? He's never played a full 82-game schedule. He's definitely not making the crisp decisions we're accustomed to.
On a night where Malik got brutalized like usual, I didn't hear anyone muttering a word about what's happened to Girardi's game (minus-six now).
When you lose as bad as this team has the past two games, every player is accountable.
They have a lot of soul searching to do.