Rangers continue slide at MSG

The Rangers rallied from a three-goal deficit to pull within a goal during the third period of Thursday night’s 4-2 loss to the Blue Jackets, and it was a decidedly less-dejected group after the game. But while Thursday’s effort may have been superior to some of the other eyesores during the team’s current slide, the losses continue to pile up.

Almost halfway through a critical nine-game homestand at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers have dropped four straight, surrendering seven of eight possible points in the process.

In doing so, the Rangers have since taken a backseat to the Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes, and after Thursday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference standings.

“Being home for nine in a row, that was a chance for us to really propel ourselves up the standings and have the home crowd in front of you,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “It’s pretty unfortunate that we’ve lost the first four. We have to figure out how to salvage the rest of the homestand here to bring us back to .500 or more here at home.”

The Rangers won’t accomplish that if they put themselves down like they did in the first period against the Blue Jackets. A goal just 38 seconds into play and some ill-timed, odd-man rushes the other way left the Blueshirts in a 3-0 hole just 11:10 into play.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was promptly yanked from the game after surrendering three goals on the first 13 shots faced.

“Obviously, where we are right now, the starts are important,” Lundqvist said. “And me not coming up with the saves early, it’s hurting me and this team.”

That makes four straight games in which the Rangers have given up four goals or more. During that span, the Rangers have managed only seven total, a pretty consistent figure given their 27th-ranked offense which averages a mere 2.25 goals per game.

Rick Nash was held off the scoresheet for the fourth time in the last six games. Derek Stepan has scored only one goal in the last 19 games. The power play came up short again in the second period.

“When you have a challenge generating some offense and when you aren’t scoring any goals, that’s why you have a record like that,” coach Alain Vigneault said of his struggling club, now 15-17-1.

The Blue Jackets had goaltending trouble, too, but of a different kind. Already without 2013 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who is on injured reserve with an injured groin, the Blue Jackets lost fill-in Curtis McElhinney Thursday night. After turning away 15-of-16 shots in the first period, third-string netminder Mike McKenna subbed in for McElhinney, who sustained a lower-body injury according to the team.

For those keeping score at home, that is Philipp Grubauer, Carter Hutton and Mike McKenna as the last three goaltenders that have stymied New York. McKenna, who finished with 17 saves in 40 minutes of play, made his first NHL appearance since the 2010-11 season.

The Rangers had chances, and they didn’t quit -- a good sign for a team that has looked listless at times during this demoralizing skein. Dominic Moore lunged to backhand the puck past McElhinney in the first period, and a crisp cross-ice feed from Mats Zuccarello to Dan Girardi in the third got the Rangers within striking distance.

Confidence, which seems to be in short supply these days, was still evident as the team kept buzzing back in the third, looking for a tying goal.

“We were still confident when we were down 3-0 [in the first],” alternate captain Brad Richards said. “That didn’t feel like we were down 3-nothing.”

But it wasn’t enough, which has become a common refrain on Broadway these days. Injuries to Marc Staal, Ryan Callahan and Derick Brassard certainly hurt, but can’t be offered as an excuse.

The grit factor? The team is trying to address that with Derek Dorsett and Arron Asham in the lineup and rugged defensive prospect Dylan McIlrath recalled to make his NHL debut.

Still not enough.

What can be done?

“We need to build off of what we did in the second game,” Richards said. “I think it was night and day from the Winnipeg game when we were out in the third and kind of went through the motions. We had a push and before they scored the fourth goal the puck was lying on the goal line in traffic. Things are going different and that finds its way in.”

“You get in a jam, it’s tough. It seems like everything is going in the wrong way,” Richards continued. “You have to trust and believe that we’ll have our time of it going that way, too.”