NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers had a chance to do what they had not done yet this season -- string together five straight wins -- but instead they squandered the opportunity with a 2-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
Riding a four-game winning streak and looking to bank an extra pair of points heading into the Olympic break, the Rangers dropped the ball in the first period with a stretch of sloppy play.
Still, it was a winnable game against an Edmonton team that entered as winners in four of their last five games, and the Rangers let at least a point slip away with a series of miscues that led to the Oilers’ deciding goal in the final minutes of play.
With 1:38 remaining in regulation, former first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov had both the time and space to fire from the slot -- a sizzling shot that beat backup netminder Cam Talbot on a deflection off a Rangers player's stick.
"Five puck battles. We lost 'em all and it ended up in the back of our net," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who was clearly disappointed about the result.
Talbot, making his first start since Jan. 21, was clearly not too pleased about the coverage breakdown, either.
"As a team, we gotta, with a minute-and-a-half left, we have to have the coverage in our end and know when their top line is out there," said Talbot, who was saddled with his second straight loss. "We can't leave a guy alone in the slot like that."
And how did he feel about his own performance?
"As far as my play, I felt I played pretty well and gave us a chance to win until the end there. It took a deflection off [Chris Kreider's] stick to beat us. We probably deserved a point or two tonight," said Talbot, who finished with 29 saves.
It's worth pointing out, however, that the Oilers probably should have taken a 2-1 lead earlier in the game on what would've been a power-play marker at 10:57 of the second period that was nullified when a quick whistle blew the play dead before the puck crossed the line.
It was the only power play of the game during a rare night in which the officials left quite a few calls on the ice. There was a blatant tripping call on Yakupov that went unnoticed in the first period, and an ugly elbow on Zuccarello later in the game that was also either missed or ignored.
After the game, players admitted the officials let a lot go, though it went both ways. The sense was that both teams got away with a few Thursday night.
"There definitely could have been penalties called," said veteran center Brad Richards. "I'm not blaming the refs, but there definitely could have been penalties called."
Derick Brassard was the lone goal scorer for the Rangers, tying the score early in the second period with a one-timer from the right faceoff circle to snap netminder Ben Scrivens' shutout streak at Madison Square Garden this season at 80 minutes 22 seconds.
The Rangers must now regroup for one more game before they disband for the Olympic break, and they have a tough test before them in the Eastern-conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday night.
Sochi-bound Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins have won eight of their last 11 to stretch their lead on the Rangers to 17 points within the Metropolitan Division.
"It's a big game. They are a good team and we have to move by this and learn from it," said Marc Staal. "We have to be better tomorrow and try to get the win."