NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Friday, November 27, 2015, 6:06 PM
BOSTON – The Rangers’ luck turned at TD Garden, as if they put it all on red on Black Friday.
Center Derek Stepan broke multiple ribs on an unpenalized late hit by Boston Bruins left wing Matt Beleskey, shelving the Blueshirts’ alternate captain indefinitely. Then the Rangers uncharacteristically lost in regulation after holding a third-period lead, 4-3, to the Boston Bruins.
They fell in maddening fashion, understandably frustrated with a head-scratching NHL officiating crew headed by referees Wes McCauley and Chris Rooney.
“Stuff was going our way at the start of the year, and now it’s going the other way,” said top-pair defenseman Dan Girardi, who had a second straight poor outing. “We’ve got to get it going back in the other direction.”
The Rangers (16-5-2, 34 points) had lost just four man games to injury through their first 22 matches, and they had not lost in regulation when leading in the third period of a game in more than a year, since a 5-4 defeat at Toronto on Nov. 8, 2014.
But both fortunes turned in Friday’s afternoon nationally-televised matinee, even though Alain Vigneault’s team was infinitely more engaged and effective than they’d been in Wednesday night’s 5-1 blowout home loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Derek Stepan is hit by Bruins forward Matt Beleskey in the second period and is unable to return.
“I thought we played one of our strongest games in a while,” center Derick Brassard said. “We were on the same page, we competed hard, and the special teams were good. But the last three minutes there killed us.”
Left wing J.T. Miller, on the power play only because of Stepan’s injury, gave the visitors a 3-2 lead on at 9:28 of the third period by tipping in a shot from Boston product Keith Yandle on the man advantage. Right wing Jesper Fast’s holding penalty on Bruins defenseman Colin Miller at 14:54, however, altered everything.
“That last penalty changed the whole game,” said Henrik Lundqvist (31 saves), who had bailed the Blueshirts out of a sloppy start. “We had control.”
Bruins forward Ryan Spooner scored the second power play goal for Boston’s league-leading man advantage at 16:14 to tie it at three apiece. Then Marc Staal’s failed clearance under pressure, with a strange line of Miller, Oscar Lindberg and Emerson Etem on the ice, gave way to Bruins center David Krejci’s game-winner through traffic at 18:17 of the third. Lundqvist said he never saw the shot.
Fast did wrap his arms around Miller near the defensive blue line for the back-breaking penalty. Vigneault had a point, though, about the context of the call: There were rib-breaking hits that were not called penalties, so where did this whistle come from?
Henrik Lundqvist reacts after giving up a third-period goal as the Blueshirts lose in Boston.
“I’m not gonna comment on the (Fast) penalty,” Vigneault said. “There was a lot of stuff going on on the ice.”
The Bruins (13-8-1, 27 points), who won their fifth in a row, had climbed back from a 2-1 deficit off a terrible call against the Rangers related to Stepan’s injury. Beleskey lined up Stepan several feet away from the boards at 8:06 the second period in the Rangers’ defensive zone, initiated his check a full second or two after Stepan had passed the puck, and sent him crumpling off the ice to the ice.
Rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath pummeled Beleskey into oblivion, but officials hit McIlrath with a two-minute instigator penalty and a 10-minute misconduct in addition to his fighting major, while not penalizing Beleskey for his hit on Stepan. Bruins right wing Brett Connolly tied the game on the ensuing power play.
“It was a two or three second count and then he gets buried,” Staal said of the Beleskey hit on Stepan. “Do we think a penalty should have been called? Absolutely.”
Rick Nash scored for the fourth straight game, his sixth goal in those four games. Lindberg tallied while centering the Rangers’ best line with Miller and Fast. But Friday night’s trip back to New York for Saturday afternoon’s 1:30 p.m. against the Philadelphia Flyers would be a quiet one.
“It’s too bad,” Brassard said. “We lose a really key player.”
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