Someone in the hockey heavens has a sense of humor.
Because they got Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Dan Girardi back from injury on Tuesday night, the Rangers no longer had to rely solely on passionate performances by players low on the depth chart to earn wins. Naturally, they wound up losing to a Penguins team that found itself in exactly that position thanks to the absence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin.
The Rangers opened up a 2-0 lead and carried the play for the first 25 minutes of the game, but things changed in a hurry. Kris Newbury, one of the few lingering unknown soldiers, took a bad penalty and the Penguins turned it into a goal. They'd score two more over the next eight minutes, a turn of events that wound up seriously costing the Rangers.
Callahan would score just before the end of the second and the Rangers dominated play in the third, but they couldn't beat Marc-Andre Fluery one more time. That carried through overtime and the shootout, which ended after seven rounds when Dustin Jeffrey poked one past Henrik Lundqvist. Callahan's goal did assure the team of a point, a point that helps solidify their spot as a playoff team, but it's the point that they missed out on that looms larger.
Whether it was because the boost given by the return of the injured players wore off or because the team got overconfident with a two-goal lead, those eight minutes of the second period wiped out a lot of good work by the Rangers on Tuesday night. It was work good enough to raise your hopes about what the team can do in the postseason, but not if they can't close out a Penguins team without Crosby and Malkin.
There are more players coming back for the Rangers and big decisions to make about how the roster works itself out for the future. The Rangers shouldn't let those questions and those returns sap the hard-driving style they rode to their spot in the standings during the first half. There are only six points between them and the ninth-place Hurricanes, points that can disappear quickly if the team keeps giving away points in winnable hockey games.