A Montreal Mauling of the Blueshirts

CANADIENS 4, RANGERS 1

Neither a periscope nor radar is needed to realize that a Rangers-Canadiens playoff encounter could occur as early as the first postseason round. Should the current standings remain the same, it would happen.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that last night’s Montreal visit to Manhattan could be a portent of things to come this spring.

No doubt this has occurred to Alain Vigneault, especially after the Habs vanquished A.V.’s skaters, 4-1, at The Garden.

Fortunately, March losses have no effect on playoff standings; so that’s a break right there for the wounded Blueshirts.

Vigneault’s roster is in a state of flux what with injuries to Jesper Fast, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein and Michael Grabner, to name a few in need of repairs.

But the healthy lads must carry on; which they did but not-too-well against a Montreal team suddenly effervescent with new, replacement coach Claude Julien and a spate of late trade deadline additions.

To put it succinctly, the Habs played hot; the Rangers were not.

OVERVIEW: With the trade deadline come and gone, the Rangers now must rely on what had been a dependable lineup; even without the likes of high-scoring Grabner and ever-reliable Fast. The cushion in the standings built during the first half of the season is coming in very handy now, and should in the immediate future. But it can’t last forever with endless home losses.

WHAT WENT WRONG:

1. DEPLETED ARSENAL: A goal by Chris Kreider was all the Rangers had to show in the Red Light Department. On the other side, two Montreal defensemen were lamplighters, among others.

2. MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: Pavel Buchnevich set up Rick Nash who had a yawning net for puck deposit but Big Rick misjudged the play and there disappeared a terrific Rangers chance.

3. UNHAPPY HOMERS: The Blueshirts have forgotten about “Home Ice Advantage.” Lately, they’ve been better on the road than they have been at The Garden.

TURNING POINT: The Habs scored their second goal — a neat passing play — making it 2-0. For all intents and purposes, the Rangers were almost done. Then the Habs made it 3-0 and they really were done.

BEST SAVES: Carey Price on Jimmy Vesey early in the third period and, later, Price on Kreider.

WHAT THEY SAID:

1. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST RON DUGUAY: “The Rangers didn’t get many chances. Henrik Lundqvist did not have a bad night; in fact, he made a lot of great saves.”

2. DEREK STEPAN: “For two or three games our offense has been struggling. Our big focus is to get ourselves in good shape for the playoffs. We have to get better each game. On this night it was frustrating.”

3. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST JOE MICHELETTI: “The club is getting off to slow starts and relying too much on Henrik Lundqvist. I think there are a few players in the lineup who are banged up. Part of the problem is injuries. And the energy level isn’t as high as it was earlier in the season.”

4. HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “We weren’t on top of our game. We need to figure it out at home; somehow we can’t seem to get it going at The Garden. The Canadiens used their speed and structure to beat us. It’s important for us to will ourselves to win the battles all over the ice. It’s a mindset for me and for the team; have more desperation than the other team.”

5. ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “We had no execution. We couldn’t make a pass. We have quite a few guys who are fighting it but that’s not an excuse for losing all the one-on-one battles that we did against Montreal. As a staff, there’s a lot that we can do.”

6. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST DAVE MALONEY: “The coach has a good feel about what’s going on.”

7. MARC STAAL: “We’re second-guessing and there’s the result the way we lost to Montreal. Every little play matters. We’ll get on the road and get some wins.”

COMING ATTRACTIONS: The Rangers take to the road starting tomorrow at Tampa Bay against a newly-revived Lightning hellbent on making the playoffs. GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M. COVERAGE STARTS AT 7 P.M. TV: MSG+.

BOTTOM LINE: For the moment at least, Alain Vigneault’s troops have lost the swagger that had made them an elite team earlier in the season. Since they’ve been playing better on the road than at home the upcoming four games away from The Garden could be a tonic for them.