Game #16: “We Wilted” Quinn fumes on bad 3-2 overtime loss to Red Wings

There really isn’t much to say following that awful third period and overtime display. I don’t care if the second Detroit goal was offside as someone showed on Twitter. There is no excuse for how poorly the Rangers played with a two-goal lead entering the third. They beat themselves in a frustrating 3-2 overtime loss to the more deserving Red Wings, who earned the two points on home ice.

The four-game win streak is over. Detroit made sure of that by playing a scrappy third in which they took it to a listless Rangers, outscoring them 2-0 on goals from Justin Abdelkader and Andreas Athanasiou to force extras. The careless play continued until the waning seconds when a turnover and blown coverage by Mika Zibanejad allowed Athanasiou to get his pass through for his team’s best player, Dylan Larkin’s OT winner that came with over five seconds remaining.

I have no complaint with the Red Wings winning the game. They worked their butts off and took it away from the Rangers, who drew the ire and fire of coach David Quinn afterwards. He didn’t mince words in the postgame while answering MSG reporter John Giannone’s questions. “We wilted,” he told Giannone about his team not handling prosperity well again on the road. “We cheated the game.”

Asked to elaborate further, Quinn did by citing the 50/50 battles they cheated on, and not getting pucks deep. They didn’t compete enough to close out what could’ve been a fifth straight win. Instead, they were incomplete which lead to their defeat. So, rather than enter a tough back-to-back at noisy Columbus with five wins in a row, they’ll look to respond to Quinn’s valid criticism. The Blue Jackets also played tonight in Washington, coming away with a 2-1 win on former Blueshirt Anthony Duclair’s seventh goal. Remember him? He seems to have found a home under John Tortorella with his fourth NHL team.

When you don’t play smart and try to take shortcuts, it usually comes back to bite you. The Rangers have no one to blame but themselves. It’s a bitter defeat, which is how a frustrated Henrik Lundqvist described it in the locker room. He had to make too many big saves in the third and OT after not seeing much action most of the first two periods. He couldn’t prevent Larkin’s lay-up from Athanasiou at 4:54 with Zibanejad late, and Kevin Shattenkirk unable to stop the pass. Predictably, Lundqvist slammed his goalstick on the net and skated off with the rest of his disappointed teammates at Little Caesars Arena.

Even though they largely controlled the first with tons of puck possession in the Detroit zone and got 11 of the game’s first 17 shots, they were unable to beat Jimmy Howard. The veteran American netminder always saves his best for the Rangers and Lundqvist. Historically, the games between the two have been lowscoring and ultimately decided by one goal. This was no different. For a while, it looked like Howard would turn in another Vezina caliber performance and shutout the Rangers. But Kevin Hayes drew a double minor for high-sticking following a great backcheck on the opposite end.

The Rangers haven’t had a lot of success on the man-advantage. However, they managed just fine scoring power play goals on both halves to take a 2-0 lead to the locker room. First, Shattenkirk actually did something other than score in the shootout. He scored his first goal of the season when Hayes and Tony DeAngelo combined to set him up for a good shot through a Jimmy Vesey screen past Howard for a 1-0 lead at 17:53. It was his first goal since last November.

Forty seconds later, Neal Pionk continued his good run by scoring for a third consecutive game. Following a Pavel Buchnevich cross ice pass, Zibanejad skated down to draw a couple of defenders. This created enough space to pass back to Pionk up top. Pionk wisely skated to the middle before firing a good low shot that deflected off Darren Helm and by Howard with both Vladislav Namestnikov and Chris Kreider screening. His third of the season came with 1:27 left.

It’s worth noting that despite some good offensive play in the second prior to the pair of power play goals, the Red Wings were starting to come on. The Rangers got sloppy defensively, giving Detroit too much room. That resulted in some dangerous chances against. Lundqvist came up with some dandies. Shots in the period were 12-12.

The turning point came early in the third. Zibanejad got a break on Howard, but the Detroit goalie stoned him to give his team a chance at the comeback. And come back they did. They can thank Brendan Smith for changing the momentum. After playing a puck behind his net, he waited too long, allowing
Gustav Nyquist to strip him and feed a wide open Justin Abdelkader for a tap in that cut it to one at 1:46.

There weren’t many Blueshirts who played the game the right way in what amounted to a dismal period in which they were outskated and outworked. Hayes was the best player, playing well during each of his shifts on both defense and offense. He’s taken his game to a different level this season. Although the production is still not there, he’s quietly picked it up in that department. His assist on the first goal gives him four points (all helpers) in the last two games entering tonight’s match at Columbus. Six (1-5-6) of his nine points have come over the past four. Hayes led all skaters with seven shots on goal. He came to play.

This isn’t to say other players didn’t. Buchnevich had another active game with an assist while creating some chances. Namestnikov was decent too. The kid line of Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson and Vinni Lettieri worked hard during their shifts. They didn’t play enough, which Quinn acknowledged. Lettieri replaced Cody McLeod, who got the night off. Brett Howden returned after missing one game. He was reunited with Jesper Fast and Vesey. Mats Zuccarello is out for the road trip with a groin injury.

For some reason, they didn’t play through way needed to in the third. Even following a good offensive shift from the top line of Zibanejad, Buchnevich and Namestnikov, they were too soft. It was eerily similar to the Kings debacle. Something Quinn agreed with when a reporter referenced it.

To their credit, the Red Wings kept coming at the Rangers in waves by using their speed to generate twice as many shots (10-5) and scoring chances. Eventually, the lack of checking cost them. On a play through the neutral zone, Niklas Kronwall fed Frans Nielsen, who dished to an onrushing Athanasiou. A great skater with tremendous skill, he went around Namestnikov and Pionk easily to beat Lundqvist with a nice backhand tuck that tied the game with 2:02 remaining. The look on Lundqvist told the story. Complete and utter disbelief.

Yes. The play was offside. That’s on the Rangers coaching staff for not challenging. They’re supposed to communicate from upstairs. Here is the freeze frame. It’s not even close.

Despite the evidence, I’m glad they didn’t challenge. They deserved what they got. You can’t play that way and expect to win. The crazy part is they almost didn’t get a point. Buchnevich took a horrible slashing minor penalty on Larkin in the offensive zone with 1:49 left. Thankfully, the penalty kill bailed him out. Otherwise, he could’ve been a goat. Quinn didn’t look pleased.

In the overtime, Buchnevich created the team’s best chance by skating with the puck around the Detroit net. But he didn’t look shot. There was room on his backhand for a wraparound. This is how the game ended:

The Rangers were unable to get a change. But no way should it have been that easy. Just very poorly played by Ryan Spooner and Zibanejad with only Shattenkirk back. It is what it is. The loss drops them to 7-7-2. We’ll see if they can redeem themselves later tonight.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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