The disgust in their postgame dressing room - the self-loathing, in some corners - was reflective of how far the Rangers have come and how far they still have to go. Their focus, clearly, was on the latter.
What in recent seasons would have been hailed as a resilient performance, Tuesday night was deplored as unacceptable. With the notable exception of Jaromir Jagr, from Rangers coach Tom Renney on down found little to like about a 2-1 loss to the relentless Buffalo Sabres in what could have been a first-round playoff preview at Madison Square Garden.
"Maybe we got too full of ourselves after the last game, figuring we'd arrived," Renney said, referring to Sunday's crackling win over the Devils. "It's not about arriving. It's about working to get somewhere. And we didn't work tonight - not nearly as hard as we have to."
Another uplifting performance by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist kept the Rangers in the game. But other than a Jagr 30-foot, change-up wrist shot off a rush that handcuffed Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, Lundqvist's teammates generated little attack of note.
Center Steve Rucchin said that only a few Rangers came to play Tuesday night.
"Really a handful at best," he said. "And it's pretty disappointing when our goaltender turns in an effort like that to not really bear down and find a way to get a win for him."
The Rangers' first-period performance might have been their poorest of the season on home ice. And only because Lundqvist thwarted Maxim Afinogenov on a breakaway and made a head-long dive to rob Daniel Paille did the Rangers escape the first down by a goal.
When Jagr scored his 30th goal of the season - the 14th straight year he's done that - 6:55 into the second, it was tied, and the Rangers' season-long Garden magic appeared to be kicking in.
But there was no follow-up. Instead, 1:53 into the third, Ales Kotalik stripped the puck from Rangers defenseman Marek Malik, whirled in the right circle and beat Lundqvist. The Rangers never really rallied thereafter, failing miserably on two third-period power plays.
Devils shut out Isles
Martin Brodeur made 24 saves for his fourth shutout of the season and Brian Gionta scored his 29th goal to help the New Jersey Devils beat the New York Islanders 4-0 on Tuesday for their 10th victory in 11 NHL games.
Brodeur, seventh on the NHL's career shutout list with 79, improved to 24-3-15 and lowered his goals-against average to 2.59. He has all four of his shutouts this season in the last 11 games.
In other NHL action: Boston 3, Atlanta 2; Columbus 6, Vancouver 5; Florida 3, Tampa Bay 2 (OT); Nashville 2 Detroit 1 (OT); Minnesota 3, Phoenix 2; Colorado 7, Calgary 4; San Jose 4, Los Angeles 1.
Lemieux retires - again
Mario Lemieux, an ice hockey Hall of Famer who won Stanley Cups and NHL scoring titles before buying the Pittsburgh Penguins and then returning to the ice, retired for a second time on Tuesday.
Lemieux, who has overcome cancer and battled heart problems in a comeback, made his decision public at a news conference.
"This is always a difficult decision for any athlete to make," Lemieux said.
The 40-year-old Lemieux learned in early December he has an irregular heartbeat that can cause his pulse to flutter wildly and must be controlled by medication.
Lemieux, the National Hockey League's seventh-leading career scorer with 1,723 points, tried to return a week after being hospitalized with the problem, but it flared up again during a December 16 game against Buffalo. He has not played since.
Lemieux has been practicing the last several weeks with the intent on returning this season but, with the Penguins stuck in a 10-game losing streak and with no hope of them making the playoffs, decided to quit playing for a second time.