NEW YORK -- This is, at least for the moment, not much more than a hiccup.
The challenge for the Penguins will be to prevent it from turning into a hemorrhage.
Their 6-1 loss against the New York Rangers Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden was their second lopsided defeat in as many nights. And while this isn't the first time the Penguins have lost consecutive games this season, it is the first time they've done so after winning 15 in a row.
The momentum they built while charging through March without a defeat has dissipated, and the reality of having to compete without the likes of Sidney Crosby, Paul Martin and Kris Letang in their lineup seems to be setting in.
Although the Penguins, as currently constituted, hardly are devoid of skill, the holes the injuries to those three have left in their lineup make the Penguins look far more vulnerable than they did just a few days ago. Still, the most troubling thing is not that they've lost the past two games, but how it has happened.
They did not compete against the Rangers at anything approaching their usual level. They lost more individual confrontations than usual and didn't appear interested in getting involved in some others.
"They beat us [in] battles," left winger Matt Cooke said. "That's unacceptable.
"Obviously, we know the right way to win and the way we did win. For the last two games, we haven't been even close to that level, that execution. And that needs to change."
Coach Dan Bylsma didn't pull goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, perhaps because he recognized early that most of the 18 guys in front of Fleury were the ones who deserved to be replaced.
The Penguins played with no hint of desperation, while the Rangers fought with the fury of a team in genuine peril of sitting out the Stanley Cup playoffs. Which, not coincidentally, they are.
The Rangers, who never led in three previous games against the Penguins this season -- all three-goal defeats -- never trailed Wednesday night.
Or were in real danger of falling behind, at least after the initial few minutes.
New York took control of the game in the first period, building a 3-0 lead after Chris Kunitz and Jarome Iginla of the Penguins hit goalposts on an early power play.
Brian Boyle put New York in front to stay on a power play at 10:01, when a Brad Richards shot from just inside the blue line deflected off him and past Fleury while Kunitz was serving a slashing minor.
Ryan McDonagh gave the Rangers a two-goal cushion by beating Fleury from above the right hash at 12:19 and Ryane Clowe, acquired from San Jose in a trade Tuesday night, made it 3-0 two minutes later.
Clowe, who did not have a goal in 28 games this season with the Sharks, collected the puck after teammate Derek Stepan knocked Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik off it, then threw a backhander by Fleury from the left side of the crease.
The Rangers' rampage continued early in the second, when Derick Brassard, acquired earlier in the day in the trade that sent Marian Gaborik to Columbus, scored on a backhander from the right hash to swell New York's advantage to four.
The Penguins finally broke through at 2:27, as Pascal Dupuis beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist from the inner edge of the left circle for his 18th of the season. Robert Bortuzzo and Brenden Morrow got assists.
If Dupuis' goal gave the Penguins a boost, it didn't last for long, because Clowe struck again on a power play at 11:52 to restore New York's four-goal advantage.
Defenseman John Moore, who went to New York in the deal that made Brassard a Rangers player, made it 6-1 at 9:47 of the third.
Moore's goal came at even-strength, but manpower wasn't a key variable at any point. New York had its way five-on-five, on the power play and while short-handed.
"The Rangers were very desperate, hungry," Iginla said. "We didn't match it."
The Penguins seem to understand that that must change. And that they can't count on any miracle recoveries by injured teammates to make it happen.
"It's going to have to be the guys in this locker room," Dupuis said. "Sid's not going to come back Friday, and [Letang] and Paul Martin are not going to be here.
"It's the guys who are in here. It has nothing to do with the skill level or whatever you want to talk about. It has to do with battle level, and wanting it more."
A lot more, it seems, than the Penguins have in the past two games.mobilehome - penguins
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter: @MolinariPG. First Published April 4, 2013 4:15 AM