NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Rangers hit the road here Monday night for a three-game trip, hoping they had put their late-autumn swoon behind them after a victory over the Ducks on Dec. 22, followed by a six-day holiday break.
Instead, they reverted to recent form, falling to the Predators, 5-3, at Bridgestone Arena to extend their road slump to 0-6-2 since they last won away from Madison Square Garden, on Nov. 21.
The Predators were the last team the Rangers defeated during their scorching start to the season, a 3-0 victory Nov. 23 at the Garden that at the time gave them a 16-3-2 record.
That seems increasingly long ago. Since then they are 4-10-2.
The Rangers welcomed defensemen Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi back to the lineup after Klein had missed 11 games with a strained oblique muscle and Girardi four with a knee injury.
(Backup goaltender Antti Raanta also was back from a head injury suffered when he was struck by a puck against the Wild Dec. 17.)
But despite their relative good health, the Rangers got off to a sluggish start, with the Predators taking target practice at Henrik Lundqvist in the early going.
The Preds led in shots on goal, 7-0, five minutes in and later 9-1 before settling for a 15-6 edge after the first period.
The Rangers did have their chances, notably Rick Nash and Girardi in close. But Nashville consistently enjoyed the better of the play, then broke through with 1:04 left before the first intermission.
Shortly after Derick Brassard was sent off for a seemingly pointless roughing penalty, the Predators’ Roman Josi found Filip Forsberg alone in the faceoff circle to Lundqvist’s right, and he scored easily.
Girardi tried to recover to defend the play but was unable to do so.
Both teams had trouble sustaining any attack early in the second. But then, suddenly, the Rangers tied it at 6:59 on a lovely tip by Jesper Fast, who redirected a Girardi shot from the point past Pekka Rinne.
The Predators regained the lead at 13:48 of the second when Mike Ribeiro found James Neal in the slot, from where he beat Lundqvist and completed a deft rush by the Predators that began with a Kevin Hayes turnover.
It was not until 5:04 was left in the second that the Rangers got their first power play, but they could not cash in despite a couple of chances, including one by Nash, who was active all night.
Forsberg appeared to put the Preds up 3-1 at 5:18 of the third when he came around the back of the net and banked in the puck, apparently off Dominic Moore’s leg.
But the Rangers challenged, arguing Lundqvist had been interfered with by Craig Smith, and the goal was erased.
The Predators continued to keep the pressure on and got their third goal when Smith tipped in a shot by Josi at 7:34. Lundqvist argued that Smith had hit the puck with a high stick, but after a review the goal stood.
Moore was in the penalty box when Ryan Ellis’ power play goal made it 4-1, seemingly icing the game. But Neal wisely added another anyway, and it was 5-1.
Raanta replaced Lundqvist, an increasingly common occurrence, with 7:53 left. Nash later made it 5-2, and then J.T. Miller made it 5-3 with 3:58 left.
The Rangers have allowed five goals or more in six of their last eight games.