NEW YORK – It’s all happened so quickly – and so quietly – perhaps you haven’t noticed. Perhaps you were focused on the NFL playoffs, or perhaps you’ve had your attention turned towards New York’s headline-creating basketball teams.
Well, it’s time to turn your attention back to the Rangers. They’re 7-2-1 in their last ten games, and have a power play that has become one of the league’s elite units.
After playing perhaps their best game of the season Wednesday in edging the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, the Rangers came back to Madison Square Garden and brought with them two points when Rick Nash, while falling to the ice, slid the puck past Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen (31 saves) with 1:58 left in the third period, sealing a 3-2 win.
For now, they’re making headway in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers (23-20-3) are three games above .500 for the first time this season, and currently hold one of the two Wild Card playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
“Going into a building like Chicago and getting two points is huge, but it doesn’t mean much if we don’t get that win tonight,” Nash said. “Tonight kind of put the exclamation point on that win, and now we have to put the focus on Sunday.”
“It’s a good start,” said Mats Zuccarello, who added another assist tonight — he’s second on the team with 21 helpers. “Four important points we got here in two games. We just have to keep playing the same way. Tonight wasn’t really an entertaining game, but we got the two points and that’s what we came here for.”
The Rangers’ power play (1-for-3 tonight) is now converting at a rate over 30% in their last 12 games. For the season, the man-advantage is sixth in the NHL at 21.3% — a rate the Rangers haven’t seen since the 1998-99 season.
“When a power play works, it keeps the other team honest, because [they don’t] want to see the power play on the ice,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “Our power play has been working real well for us. It’s been giving us momentum, and it’s been giving us timely goals. We need that from the power play.”
“We know on home ice, sometimes the fans get a little restless with the power play when it’s not working, so it was good to get it out of the way quick and keep the momentum,” said Brad Richards, who added a pair of assists and leads the team with 22 assists. “It just feels good right now. I don’t want to talk about [the power play] because it seems like you jinx it any time you do. You guys know the stats and what it’s doing.”
Earlier this season, the Rangers went on a 7-2-0 run from October 29 through November 10. That was followed up, though, by a 6-9-2 stretch that saw them drop to their low water mark of two games under .500. But since then, New York has found its’ game. And the confidence they gained from their win in Chicago on Wednesday carried over to another gritty win Friday night at the Garden.
“Tonight was a really greasy win,” Derek Stepan said. “It was a lot of whistles, really no flow to the game, and we find a way to get it done. We want to make sure we identify ourselves as a team that’s hard to play against, and a team that’s really sharp with the puck and manages the puck well. That’s something we have to find a way to continue to do.”
After starting the season 5-9-1 at MSG, the Rangers are 4-1-2 at home over their last seven games. Nine of their next 13 games will be played at home – with two of those four “road” games scheduled for Yankee Stadium.
The Rangers outshot Dallas (20-17-7) by a margin of 34-26. It’s the 12th time in 15 games they’ve outshot their opponent, and the 15th time in 19 games they’ve thrown at least 30 shots on goal.
The stop-and-start game included 73 faceoffs, of which the Rangers won a season-high 45. Derick Brassard was 15-for-21.
INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM: