Let’s start at the beginning, which, as has become a disheartening and inexplicable pattern, the Rangers did not do in last night’s match at the Garden against the 30th-overall Panthers.

The Blueshirts failed to assert themselves, failed to establish a tone, failed to inform the clawless Puddy Tats that they would be in for a hard day’s night.

“Every other team comes out hard at us in the first five or 10 minutes where we kind of feel like we’re weathering the storm, so I don’t know why we haven’t been able to throw everything we have at them the first few shifts and create momentum that way,” Dan Girardi said after the Blueshirts’ 3-1 defeat.

“Our coaches gave us a pretty good pregame report, they told us Florida would come hard the first five or 10 minutes, so we knew that,” the defenseman said. “No disrespect to the Panthers, but we kind of let them off the hook by playing the way we did at the start.”

The Rangers finally did get it going after falling behind 1-0 at 8:22 of the first on Brian Campbell’s power-play goal and they kept coming after Scottie Upshall scored at 4:28 of the second. But despite racking up a season-high 46 shots against Jacob Markstrom and tying a season-best 77 attempts, this was one the Rangers never quite got hold of, one the Rangers never quite deserved to win.

Make no mistake. This was a giant step backward for the team that once again is in ninth place after the two small steps forward with back-to-back victories over Carolina and in New Jersey on Monday and Tuesday.