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Rangers Slip in Third, Lose to Penguins

Three third period goals lift Penguins at MSG

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Too much Malkin left the Rangers grabbing at air.

    It says a lot about how good the Rangers have been this season that losing three of their last five games constitutes a rough stretch.

    The Rangers lost to the Penguins 4-1 on Thursday night, their first loss to a division opponent since Oct. 15, and the score wound up much more lopsided than the game.

    The game was tied through two periods and the Rangers made a pair of mistakes that led to Pittsburgh goals before an empty netter wound up finishing the team off.

    That's a change from the rest of the games in this five-game snapshot of a season. The Rangers have been swinging between dominant performances -- shutouts of the Maple Leafs and Predators -- and miserable ones, but this loss at least looked like the Ranger team that comes up with wins for much of the night.

    You'd like to see them play the full 60 minutes, especially against a team of Pittsburgh's caliber, but there are going to be nights when Marc Staal pinches at the wrong time and whiffs on a puck in his own end with Evgeni Malkin lurking.

    These things are even more likely to happen on nights when Staal plays a ton of minutes for the first time since returning from a concussion, as he did on Thursday, but there is going to have to be a night when Staal plays a ton of minutes for the first time and the Rangers have done well enough to give them a cushion through a period like this.

    And let it be repeated that losing three out of five games isn't some kind of tailspin that calls for any great hand-wringing from the masses. If this is as bad as it gets, this is going to be a season to savor.

    That doesn't mean everything is perfect in the Rangers' world. They need some help putting the puck in the net, especially with Brad Richards lost in the wilderness for the last few weeks, and something needs to happen to make the power play more effective because it has gotten to the point where other teams taking penalties elicits groans instead of glee.

    Making those improvements will be important because the first half of the season has put a target on the Rangers' backs and they will be getting the best shot from every team on their schedule the rest of the way. That includes the Bruins, who will host the Rangers Saturday afternoon in a matchup between the two top teams in the Eastern Conference.

    There will be an attempt to make that matchup a referendum on the Rangers' chances this season by fans and some in the media, but that's a stretch.

    There's a ton of hockey left to play and one game won't change either side's trajectory enough to make you remember the outcome come the end of February.

    It will be entertaining, though, and it will be one more moment to enjoy what the Rangers have accomplished to this point in the season, even if they are coming off a loss.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.