The easiest shorthand to use to describe how well things have gone for the Rangers this season has long been their streak without losing two straight games in regulation.
Entering Thursday night's game against the Senators in Ottawa, they hadn't done it since Dec. 15. That's 35 games, almost half the season, and that kind of consistency in the results department is the biggest reason why the Rangers built up a big lead in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.
The streak is now dead and a losing streak has taken its place. The Rangers lost 4-1 for the second straight game and it's really not the right time for the team to have lost sight of its game.
Pittsburgh is just six points back in the division race all of a sudden and they've got Sidney Crosby's return on the horizon to go with the group that Evgeni Malkin has led to good results in his absence. With two games left against the Rangers, the first is next Thursday, things could be a lot tighter in a hurry and all that good work from earlier in the season could feel wasted.
Neither of the last two losses can make John Tortorella feel all that good about where his team is right now. It's not that the team has played terrible hockey in the two losses, it's that they have played sloppy in terms of turnovers and played without the kind of edge that has been their trademark this season.
The missing edge was most clear on the second Senators goal when defenseman Marc Staal was simply outmuscled on a move to the net by Nick Foligno before getting beaten again when Foligno scooped up his own rebound for a 2-1 Ottawa lead.
Staal's return from a long absence because of concussions has been slow, but he's looked pretty good in recent weeks so that play could be indicative of the way the schedule has been grinding on the team.
As good as the results have been for the Rangers, the margin has usually been razor thin as the team lacks the kind of offensive punch that can simply overwhelm the opposition on that end of the ice. That means they have to play with extra servings of grit, elbow grease or whatever other evocative cliche of blue collar work ethic you prefer.
It hasn't been there the last couple of nights and that's all it takes for a losing streak to suddenly make its ugly appearance. Again, the team hasn't been terrible but they haven't been good enough either.
As long as the Rangers are getting points, even if it's just one point in an overtime loss, it's hard to get too worked up over winding up on the wrong side of the scoreboard occasionally. But when that razor thin margin breaks against them a few times in a row -- they have to get right back at it in Chicago on Friday night -- it is very easy to start talking yourself into all of the reasons why the Rangers' chances of going the distance are shaky at best.
The closing gap behind them and the coming games with Pittsburgh in front of them make Friday night (and Sunday night against the Islanders) a real challenge for the Rangers to show that they still have all the things that built their lead. Now isn't the time for the first three-game losing streak since the first three games of the season.