The New York Rangers narrowly came up short on Sunday night, losing 2-1 in a nail-biter against the most surprising team in the west: the first-year expansion team Vegas Golden Knights.
The Rangers were playing in the second of a grueling back-to-back set of games which started with a 2-1 shootout win against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday, while the Golden Knights came into the game as one of the hottest teams in the league, coming in with an impressive 29-10-2 record to lead the Western Conference.
The Rangers were hurt by the loss of center Kevin Hayes, who left early in the game with an injury, which was a disappointing blow after getting Mats Zuccarello back in the lineup following the illness which kept him out versus the Coyotes.
Despite this, the game remained a hard fought 1-1 tie until Vegas took the advantage on a game-winning goal by William Karlsson, scored at 8:58 into the third period. The shot came on a cross-ice pass from Reilly Smith moments after the Knights had just killed a Ranger power play, their 20th successful penalty kill in a row.
In net for the Rangers was Ondrej Pavelec, giving Henrik Lundqvist a night off following his overtime performance from the night before. Coming into the game he had played well, boasting a .966 save percentage and 1.26 GAA across three starts. Pavelec continued to put up impressive numbers during the contest, stopping 32 of the 34 shots he faced, despite the loss.
The win helped secure Vegas’ top spot in the Western Conference, giving them 60 points on the midway point of the season. The Rangers currently sit 4 games back in the Metropolitan division with 49 points and a record of 22-15-5.
In order to fuel their playoff hopes in the second half of the season, they will need to make up some ground in their division, which is currently led by the Washington Capitals who have 55 points, while first place in the Eastern Conference is occupied by the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning with 63 points.