NEW YORK -- It sure seemed obvious to the crowd at Madison Square Garden. And to the New York Rangers players on the ice and on the bench, craning their necks up at the JumboTron as it showed a magnified replay of Carl Hagelin's wraparound attempt that appeared to beat Sharks netminder Antti Niemi in the second period.
But the video that displayed what would’ve been a game-tying goal for the Rangers wasn’t enough for the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto, which ultimately ruled the evidence “inconclusive” and upheld the initial call on the ice.
And, as such, the Rangers surrendered two points to the scorching-hot San Jose Sharks, who blanked the Rangers 1-0 in the Blueshirts’ return to home ice Sunday. Thanks to Niemi’s stellar 41-save shutout performance, and maybe a little extra assistance from the officials, the Sharks improved to a dizzying 10-1-1 in their last 12 games.
Meanwhile, the Rangers find themselves teetering dangerously close to falling out of the playoff picture entirely. New York currently has hold of the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The fact that they were likely shortchanged by at least one point in the standings didn’t make the defeat any easier to stomach.
The lengthy delay to review allowed the crowd plenty of looks at the grainy video that was available in Toronto as well. And though it was clear to see the puck nudged between Niemi’s right pad and the left post, it was difficult to see the puck as it actually crossed the line. The ruling, made after several minutes of deliberation, elicited a raucous round of boos from fans. They were just as vocal when the final buzzer sounded, a good indication about how they felt about the missed call and the subsequent outcome of the game.
“It was pretty obvious on the video review that the puck was in,” said Hagelin, who appeared to beat Niemi at the left post. “But in all fairness, the refs couldn’t see the puck. That was the problem. Camera couldn’t get a hold of the puck. If the ref would’ve been closer right away, he would have been able to see the puck, but he was a little bit behind the goalie. It was just unlucky.”
Asked his feelings about the ruling, coach Alain Vigneault responded:
“It doesn’t matter what I think. I don’t make the decisions.”
The Rangers had plenty of other chances to solve Niemi. Derick Brassard's line had two opportunities right on the doorstep in the first period alone. Empty nets that beckoned quickly disappeared, though, as Niemi sprawled, stretched and stacked his pads to prevent any Rangers’ scoring attempt from actually finding the back of the net, earning his fourth shutout of the season in the process.
“I think he probably won them that hockey game,” alternate captain Brad Richards said.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was seeking what would’ve been a franchise record-setting 302nd NHL win, seemed particularly dejected after the loss, the Rangers' third in the past four games.
“It’s frustrating because this loss is so painful in so many ways,” he said. “We had so many open nets, so many chances to get back into this game.”
The Rangers may soon be looking for ways to climb back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference standings, with clubs such as Philadelphia, Washington and Columbus gaining traction, and teams such as Detroit and New Jersey not far behind, either.
“We definitely understand how important every point is right now,” Lundqvist said. “Again we go out there and play a really strong game against one of the best teams in the league, but it’s hard to be positive about things when you don’t win. Right now, it’s about points. It’s not about playing great against good teams. It’s about finding ways to win and we didn’t tonight.”