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Rangers still not in Canucks\' league

New York falls short in game used to benchmark rebuilding progress

Rangers still not in Canucks\' league

The New York Rangers wanted to see whether they measured up, and they didn't quite do so.

Not at the start of the game, when they clearly were a bit skittish. And not at the end, when they committed a critical error that cost them dearly.

Which only makes sense, considering that the Rangers threw a new roster together in anticipation of rebuilding this season while the Vancouver Canucks were keeping their core intact with an eye on the Cup.

So even though their Calder Trophy candidates kept them close, the Rangers succumbed to the Canucks, 3-2, Tuesday night at the Garden.

None of the ticked-off Rangers wanted to concede anything after a game in which two more Petr Prucha goals and some early goaltending heroics by Henrik Lundqvist had the score tied with 4 1/2 minutes left in regulation.

"They played well, but I'm not worried about it," Jaromir Jagr said. "We lost. But we proved we can play with anyone, beat anyone."

Said center Michael Nylander: "They're one of the better teams, of course. We feel like we're up there with anybody. Tonight, it didn't go our way. But I think we can beat any team."

Had Nylander made a different choice late in the third period, perhaps the Rangers might have pulled out another Garden thriller. But after Jason Strudwick and Jason Ward backchecked to thwart a Vancouver rush, an in-position Nylander attempted to carry the puck to safety rather than sweep it away from the front of the Rangers' net.

That choice backfired when Matt Cooke pounced, took the puck right off Nylander's stick and snapped it past an off-balance Lundqvist to give the Canucks their third one-goal lead of the game with 4:31 left. This time, the Rangers couldn't come up with an equalizer. Thus, they lost for just the second time in 12 games (9-2-1) and the third time in regulation (10-3-2) at the Garden.

"I was just trying to take it away on my backhand and I probably should have just took a forehand and shot it away from where everybody was," said Nylander, who set up Prucha's second goal. "No, I didn't see him. But it's not good. When you're right there, you should clear the puck there. It's a bad way to lose."

A worse way, actually, would have been to get run out of their building. And that appeared possible when the Canucks spent most of the first period whirling and weaving in the Rangers' zone, dominating time of possession and launching 17 shots at Lundqvist. The only reason the game was scoreless after 20 minutes was that he stopped all of them.

If his players wouldn't admit it, Rangers coach Tom Renney conceded that such a start reflected his team's uncertainty about whether it really was a match for a Vancouver team that has been a Western Conference power for several seasons.

"I'd love to tell you that at the drop of the puck we were ready to roll and we were going to steamroll the Vancouver Canucks - not the case," Renney said. "You could tell by the amount of time we spent territorially in our own end, by how we gave the puck away by trying to manufacture things that might not have existed instead of just chipping it down and making them hunt it down in their end.

In other NHL action: Minnesota 4, NY Islanders 3; Florida 7, Nashville 3; Atlanta 7, Detroit 6; New Jersey 2, Edmonton 1 (Shootout); Philadelphia 3, Columbus 1; St. Louis 3, Pittsburgh 0; Carolina 5, Chicago 3; Montreal 5, Phoenix 2.