The Rangers had been feeling good about themselves after finishing 2007 with a hard fought 4-3 overtime win last Sunday on home ice.
But they couldn't keep it going in the first of a challenging three-game Western Canada road swing- falling to Mike Keenan's Flames 4-3 last night at The Saddledome.
They never led as Hart candidate Jarome Iginla scored twice including a third period tally off a turnover and inept defensive coverage by every Ranger on the ice to restore a two-goal lead.
In perhaps his best game of the season, rookie pivot Brandon Dubinsky was rewarded for some hard work when he completed a give-and-go with Sean Avery to cut the deficit to 3-2 with six and change left.
But a really odd play broke the Rangers' backs. Off a faceoff, Martin Straka broke free from two Flames and was nearly in on Miikka Kiprusoff but lost control before trying a back pass to Michal Rozsival which didn't work as the defenseman who struggled all night wasn't set.
Instead, a hustling Kristian Huselius went the other way off the costly turnover and fooled Henrik Lundqvist with a tricky shot from an extreme angle down near the left boards.
The 25 year-old netminder was apparently expecting a centering pass and caught napping as he wasn't all the way against the post which allowed the puck to go in.
Just brutal. Totally inexcusable for Lundqvist who's been less than stellar for about a month now. Maybe it's the thoughts of a long-term extension which could be happening any day now.
The latest bad goal really hurt because leading finisher Brendan Shanahan tallied with 14 seconds to go. But it would be too little too late as Jaromir Jagr couldn't get a shot off as time expired.
This was a frustrating defeat because Kiprusoff (29 saves- many timely) totally outplayed Lundqvist. Given some of the quality chances the Rangers generated for the final 22-23 minutes, they easily could've been in overtime with at least a valuable point with another up for grabs.
Kiprusoff was that good IMO. He really was sharp and played like the former Vezina winner he is which bodes well for the Flames, who are 8-1-1 in their last 10 and really playing better hockey.
The other frustrating aspect of this loss was that once again, the Blueshirts came away without a win against a Western Conference opponent. I think that's now 0-5-1 against the West.
That's why they continue to trail the first place Devils (now up by three) who had a nice home win (3-2) over the Panthers where their franchise goalie Martin Brodeur shined in making 31 saves to allow Brian Gionta's five-on-three power play tally to hold up.
Eventually, the Rangers need to break through and it's not going to be any easier tonight at Vancouver against Roberto Luongo.
One other note from last night's action: Ilya Kovalchuk scored his league-leading 33rd and assisted on three other Atlanta goals including a Marian Hossa winner during a 5-4 OT win at Carolina.
Kovalchuk has been amazing this season. At the halfway mark, the exciting Russian sniper has 33 goals and 24 helpers for 57 points.
If he gets them into the postseason, he should win the Hart.
If you missed the highlights, be sure to go to yahoo and check out his awesome end-to-end PPG.
Also, John Buccigross appeared on our New York Hockey Report show last night. I'll link up the archive a little later. Fyi...actually, the link for the podcast appears at the top corner of the left part of our page. So you can just click on the NYHR link with our cool logo!
Many topics were covered including the very successful outdoor Winter Classic which drew the best network TV rating since Wayne Gretzky's final game. Plus plenty of league stuff as we talked about surprises and the seasons of Kovalchuk and the ageless Nicklas Lidstrom.
Be sure to tune in for our next show. It's usually every Wednesday between 9 and 10 over at blogtalk radio.
I need to get going now. See ya'll later.