ST. PAUL, Minn. — It took 18 days post-trade deadline, but the Rangers’ fate finally came through in their play Friday night.
For the first time, coach David Quinn said, he felt his team had “caved a little bit to our situation” in their loss to the Flames.
Less than 24 hours later, the Rangers were back on the ice and Quinn was adamant that their effort and energy would be better in the second half of the back-to-back.
Only, the result remained the same.
The Rangers finished up their road trip but their free fall continued Saturday night with a 5-2 loss to the Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
As their six-day, four-game, three-time zone trip came to an end without a win, the Rangers (28-31-13) dragged themselves back to New York having lost 10 of their past 11. The Wild (34-30-8) had everything to play for, entering the night three points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, while the Rangers were playing for pride a night after Quinn said they had cheated the game.
“We can’t have this game end and we can’t get on that plane tonight feeling the way we did [Friday] night,” Quinn had said before puck drop.
But there was still no win to send them home on a high note. The Rangers were chasing from behind again after the Wild had broken an early 1-1 tie with a goal at the end of the first period — set up by a pair of turnovers from Filip Chytil — and another at the start of the second off a two-on-one pass that hit Neal Pionk’s stick and slid through Henrik Lundqvist’s legs.
Pavel Buchnevich scored midway through the third period to cut the deficit to 4-2, but J.T. Brown added a late empty-netter to seal the game.
The Rangers had lost plenty since trading away some of their key pieces at the trade deadline, unofficially waving the white flag on a season that was already falling out of their grasp. But they had remained competitive, with five of seven losses needing overtime or a shootout, but the past three have been more decisive.
“I thought [Friday] night we kind of caved to where we’re at,” Quinn said. “I never felt that way [before then]. I thought our situation, I thought guys might have caved. The last word I would ever use for our team is ‘quit.’ … This team has shown a very good work ethic. But the one thing I thought we did a little bit last night — you could feel it — I thought we caved a little bit to our situation.”
The Rangers picked up Saturday where they left off Friday. Pionk turned the puck over on a pass in the offensive zone, giving way to a Wild two-on-one. Ryan Donato kept it for himself and fired a wrister past Lundqvist for the 1-0 lead at 4:40 of the first period.
The Rangers had a quick response with a freak goal, though, as Mika Zibanejad got the puck in the corner behind the end line and flung a shot on net. Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk was skating to get back in net and the shot got just enough of him to redirect into the net, tying the game at one. The goal was Zibanejad’s 28th of the year, a new career-high.
But the Wild took over from there as the losses continued to pile up.
“That can wear on your human psyche,” Quinn said. “Human nature can kick in. You can’t let human nature kick in, you’ve got to fight it. You’ve got to make sure you’re mentally strong enough to not cave in to frustration and to the situation.”