NEW YORK – There’s no question it’s been an inconsistent season for the Rangers. That point can’t be argued. The question is why have they been so inconsistent?
Certainly, some of their issues have been physical – injuries have played a role, as have scoring slumps. But perhaps the single greatest reason the team has struggled with its consistency has been a battle with confidence.
That’s one emotion that seemed in high supply Monday night at Madison Square Garden, as the Rangers (17-15-3, 37 points, 8th in East) scored three unanswered goals to erase a second-period deficit and beat Winnipeg, 4-2.
“I think they have confidence,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “It’s just when something doesn’t go right for them in the game, we’ve lost a little bit of that quick resiliency. Maybe tonight we find a way to come back and maybe this is a good lesson for us. They have to grab something to keep themselves aware that we’re not dead yet, here, because [an opponent] just scored. I believe it’ll come. It’s a matter of winning or losing for players to feel good about themselves.”
“We looked good. We looked confident,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 26 saves to move into a tie with Eddie Giacomin for second on the franchise’s all-time goalie wins list (267). “I think the second goal really lifted us. We had taken a couple penalties; it felt like a tough game at the time.”
It certainly was a tough game at the time. After the Rangers’ Derek Stepan opened the scoring on a pretty passing play just 19 seconds into the first period, the Jets answered 56 seconds later when a defensive breakdown allowed Nik Antropov to slide the puck past Lundqvist from just outside the crease.
Zach Bogosian put Winnipeg (18-17-2, 38 points, 3rd in East) in front with a point blast at 12:54 of the first, and the Jets had a chance to put the reeling Rangers down by two goals during a 39 second five-on-three situation early in the second.
But as Mats Zuccarello left the penalty box, Ryan McDonagh lifted the puck out of the Rangers zone and into neutral, where Ryan Callahan took it, skated in, deked out a defender and waited out Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (31 saves). His pretty backhanded goal tied the game, and calmed the jittery Rangers.
“It certainly sparked us,” Tortorella said. “We score, we have some awful coverages leaving the front of the net [on the first two goals]. They score, and we get paralyzed. As far as Ryan Callahan, it’s a huge play – not only killing penalties, but the wherewithal to kill and keep the puck and score a big goal like that. I thought we took off from there, I thought we took over the game from there.”
“You always try to simplify games, especially when you’re not scoring goals,” said Stepan, who added the eventual game-winner on a bad-angle shot at 5:46 of the third. “We’ve been talking about it the last few days, and we just want to make sure we play more of the style we want to play. I thought the second and third periods we started to come.”
“Seems like we’re always giving up too many chances and getting goals scored on us at tough times,” said Rick Nash, who gave the Rangers their final two-goal margin with 6:53 remaining. “Tonight we kept it simple and we buried our chances when we had it.”
The three unanswered goals kept the Rangers in eighth place in the conference, tied with the Islanders in ninth, but in playoff position due to a game-in-hand. With only 13 games left in their regular season, every remaining game of this shortened season takes on the importance of a postseason affair. Points are at a premium, and the Rangers need every single one they can get.
“After a win, we have to create that energy and use it as momentum and bring it in the following night,” said Callahan, who scored a point on all four Rangers goals (one goal, three assists). “That’s something we’ve been struggling with, but it’s something we need to concentrate on and do.”
“We need everybody now,” said Lundqvist. “We talk a lot about the top players, but we need everybody to bring something to the table. It’s that hard to win games. I thought tonight we battled hard. We played with a lot of energy and emotion out there.”
“We got no excuses,” Nash said. “We’re a desperate team right now. We need wins. We have no other choice; we have to carry momentum [into our next game].”
The Rangers improved to 5-12-1 against teams currently ahead of them in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Monday’s win was their first against such teams since March 19 against the Devils.
The Rangers are 10-2-1 when scoring the game’s first goal, and 6-13-2 when allowing the game’s opening goal. They are 13-2-2 when tied or leading heading into the third period.
The Rangers were a perfect five-for-five on the penalty kill. They are 10-4-1 this season when not allowing a power-play goal.
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