(AP) – Henrik Lundqvist can do only so much to help the New York Rangers.
The star goalie is playing well, yet his margin of error is getting slimmer every night as the Broadway Blueshirts look to find the offense that has suddenly left them.
With the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner likely in net, the Rangers will try to avoid matching their longest slide of the season by continuing their dominance of the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
During a recent surge that began in early December, the Rangers won 13 of 14 and scored at least three goals in 11 of those games, and four or more seven times. That spurt ended with consecutive shutout losses to the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins.
But the defending Eastern Conference champion Rangers (27-15-4) seemed to find their scoring punch again in winning three straight before the All-Star break – netting a total of 10 goals in victories over Columbus, Pittsburgh and Ottawa. The seven-day shutdown has dropped the Rangers back into a funk again.
They were beaten 4-1 by the Islanders on Tuesday in their return, managing their only goal with 8.1 seconds left when the outcome had already been decided. Then they dropped a tough 1-0 defeat at home to Montreal two days later, when Lundqvist’s only blemish came when Max Pacioretty’s 50-foot shot got between him and the right post with 4:17 remaining.
A soft goal, by his admission, proved to be the difference.
”I felt like I did a lot of good things,” Lundqvist said. ”I won’t remember the first, second or third period. I’ll only remember the last four minutes, and that’s the life of a goalie.
”You make a mistake like that and you pay for it sometimes.”
Lundqvist made 25 saves during the goalie duel with Montreal’s Carey Price, but the one hiccup prevented the Rangers from salvaging even one standings point.
The Rangers are among the league leaders in goals allowed per game (2.33), and have yielded two goals or fewer in 15 or their last 20 games and 19 of 28.
Lundqvist, 7-3 in his last 10 outings with a 1.86 goals-against average, blamed himself for the Montreal loss, but offered suggestions to jump-start the slumping offense.
”We are doing a lot of good things, but we can try to get more traffic in front of the goalies and make it a little tougher for them,” he said. ”We are working really hard and we are not far off. We need a couple bounces here or there and it will be a different story.
”We aren’t going to overthink it, just get ready for the next one and really try to come back with a win here on Saturday.”
That will be the second game of a four-game homestand when the Hurricanes visit Madison Square Garden. It doesn’t get easier after that, as Florida and Boston come to town.
”Carolina has been pretty good of late,” right wing Martin St. Louis said. ”There is no easy game in this league, and we just have to bounce back.”
St. Louis was talking about the team as a whole, but he has dipped as well. After scoring a goal in each of the Rangers’ last two games of a successful West Coast trip, he has gone seven games without a goal.
Nash, the Rangers’ lone All-Star with 28 goals, has been held without one in six of seven games, but he tallied two at Pittsburgh on Jan. 18.
The story is the same throughout the lineup.
Mats Zuccarello has gone nine games without a goal, Derek Stepan also scored twice in the 5-2 win at Pittsburgh but has no goals in 11 other games since a hat trick in New York’s 3-1 victory against New Jersey on Dec. 27. Derick Brassard has just one goal in nine games.
”We just have to fight through those adversities,” Zuccarello said.
Facing the Hurricanes (17-25-6) could be just what the Rangers are looking for since they’ve won 14 of the past 15 matchups, and eight straight at MSG after a 1-0 victory on Dec. 21 to sweep a home-and-home set.
Carolina has put together a 7-2-2 stretch, but its three-game winning streak ended with Friday’s 3-2 shootout loss to St. Louis after erasing a two-goal, first-period deficit.
"We know we can compete with most teams in this league – any team in this league," said captain Eric Staal, who missed the decisive shootout attempt.
Justin Faulk has three goals and two assists in the past four games, scoring his career-high 10th goal of the season Friday. The defenseman’s 29 points are second on the team to Staal’s 30.
Staal also leads the Hurricanes with 16 goals, but he has just one in his last 15 meetings with New York and none in eight.