The Detroit Red Wings soundly and roundly criticized themselves after spending Sunday accomplishing nothing.

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NEW YORK (DETROIT FREE PRESS) -- The Detroit Red Wings soundly and roundly criticized themselves after spending Sunday accomplishing nothing.

Coach Mike Babcock called the 3-0 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden the Wings' worst since New Year's Day. Unacceptable was a description used more than once. Surprising, too, to say the least, given that the lethargic effort resulted in exactly what would have been known before the game began: The Wings fell out of the playoff picture, losing their hold on the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, with only 18 games left to secure their historic streak.

"The hour glass is getting smaller and smaller here by the day," Jimmy Howard said. "We better start stringing some games along rather than playing one, taking one off."

Howard was beaten by a skip and a tip on the first two goals, with Brian Boyle sending the puck in off Brendan Smith's stick on the first goal and a Chris Kreider deflecting Ryan McDonagh's blue-line blast 14 seconds into the third period. Kreider scored his second of the game with 8 minutes to go in regulation. The line that had been so hot for the Wings the past two games -- newcomer David Legwand centering Gustav Nyquist and Johan Franzen -- was on the ice for both of Kreider's goals.

Henrik Lundqvist had good sight lines on most of the 30 saves he made in his 300th career victory, while his teammates trapped and held up the Wings through the neutral zone. Babcock complimented the Rangers, but mostly expressed consternation why his own team wasn't better.

"They played hard and were organized, but we weren't competitive enough," he said. "We turned over the puck, we didn't compete physically in the offensive zone, never made it hard on Lundqvist. I was disappointed with our group today.

"This isn't about standings, it's about doing things right, and if you stay in the process, you execute, and if you focus on forechecking and you focus on D-zone, the score looks after itself. We weren't competitive enough. You've got to get yourself ready to compete. As a group, we weren't good enough. As a coach of the group, you've got to look at yourself.

"This was unacceptable."

Why the Wings didn't play better baffles, especially as they would have seen nearly every one of the teams closest to them in the standings gain points Saturday. Babcock said he was "very surprised, but that's the thing about this business, every time you think you've got her going, you don't. Just stay scared, and life is good."

Life would be better for the Wings if they had their superstars, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, but Zetterberg is out at least through mid-April and Datsyuk at least through March. The ones left skating today were undermined by their own fanciness.

"They trap good, but we were too cute," Nyquist said. "We tried to dangle our way through instead of chipping it in and getting on their D. There were way too many turnovers."

The Wings are trying to continue a 22-season record of making the playoffs. They weren't in much better shape last season going down the home stretch, except they had Zetterberg, they had Datsyuk. Three teams giving chase are within four points, and those above Detroit in the standings all have at least 30 victories. Detroit was still stuck at 29 after today's yawner.

"We know the situation, we know where we're at," Niklas Kronwall said. "This is just not good enough."

Contact Helene St. James: hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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