EDMONTON, Alberta — Oh, there were fireworks on New Year’s Eve alright.
The Rangers really imploded, and then made a game of it late in the third period. But it was too much to overcome, and they suffered a 7-5 defeat to the Oilers on Tuesday night.
As James Neal registered a hat trick and the Oilers had four power-play goals, all of the Rangers recent talk about defense and puck management blew up in their face. They went on a frenzied rally that cut a 6-5 deficit into a 6-5 with 3:45 to play in regulation, but it just wasn’t enough.
And the frustration had been palpable.
There was coach David Quinn getting a penalty for lambasting the referees, there was goalie Alex Georgiev shattering his stick with three smacks against the post before he got pulled, and there was the Rangers leaving for the next leg of this trip in Calgary with the hope that 2020 starts in a lot different way than 2019 ended.
The Rangers (19-16-4) had come in knowing that they needed to play better despite winning their past two games — the one at home coming out of the Christmas break on Friday, when they beat the Hurricanes, 5-3; and then the first leg of this four-game Canadian trip in Toronto on Saturday, a 5-4 overtime victory. Yet Quinn had driven home the fact that they needed to play better defensively, and not to get misled by the results.
“Everybody in our locker room realizes we can’t play that way and have sustained success,” the coach had said. “If we want to achieve our ultimate goal, we have to elevate our commitment to defense and managing the puck and every guy has to do that, and it has to be across the board. It’s a mindset.”
Well, the mindset when the third period started with the Rangers down 6-1 was just to get out of here without any more embarrassment. The Blueshirts had essentially already had their five-game winning streak on New Year’s Eve snapped, while they helped the Oilers (21-17-4) break their 17-game winless streak on the last day of the calendar — a streak going back to 1985.
Ryan Strome managed to score at 4:38 to cut the deficit to 6-2, and it all seemed like top dressing. But then came tallies from Marc Staal and Artemi Panarin just 38 seconds apart to make it 6-4 with just under seven minutes remaining.
Then Mika Zibanejad got one with 3:45 remaining regulation to make it 6-5, and all of sudden, it seemed possible. But Kailer Yamamoto scored into the empty net in the waning moments to give the Rangers their rightful defeat.
The game couldn’t have started any worse for the Rangers, with Neal getting his first of the game just 11 seconds in. Then it was Neal again on the power play just over eight minutes later, hardly touched as he tipped in an Oscar Klefbom point shot.
The Rangers had no answer. They were soft in front and soft on the walls. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was able to waltz right into the slot and tip in an Ethan Bear shot at 11:13 of the first period to give Edmonton a 3-0 lead going into the second period.
If the Rangers thought there was time to come back, well, it was only in theory. They could never get any traction, and allowed the woefully inept officiating crew of Chris Schlenker and Ian Walsh to take the game off the rails. After Ryan Lindgren got into a tussle with Jujhar Khaira, it was Lindgren getting an extra slashing minor.
Leon Draisaitl was able to tap in his 23rd of the season from in front to make it 4-0. That so enraged Quinn that he let the officials have it and was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. On the ensuing Edmonton power play, it was Neal finishing off his hat trick on a quick one-timer from the slot, giving his team a 5-0 lead.
Georgiev, who has proven to be a cool customer, then must have felt he needed to do something as the Rangers were on another penalty kill. So Georgiev came out of the net and dove to play a loose puck up near the high slot, sending it bounding to the corner. But soon after he returned to the net, Josh Archibald fired a low one under him to make it 6-0, and that was enough.
Georgiev freaked out and slammed his stick three times against the post, tossing the remnants into the corner. Quinn pulled him from the game, six goals allowed on 24 shots, bringing in Henrik Lundqvist for mop-up duty.
Before the second ended, Chris Kreider finished a nice feed from Artemi Panarin to make it 6-1, but it wasn’t more than whipped cream on, well, on the end of 2019.