NEW YORK – It was a moment Rangers fans have seen before.
The Rangers (6-7-0) started awfully slowly and lethargically in their match against scuffling Carolina (4-7-3) Saturday night at MSG. In fact, through the first six minutes the Hurricanes had six of the game’s first eight shots, and were threatening to snap their four-game losing streak against a team looking for its fourth win in five games.
It was so ugly, it was perhaps reasonable to expect Rangers coach Alain Vigneault to call his timeout, try to settle the troops, and hope a stern talking-to would energize his team. After all, that’s what former coach John Tortorella would have done.
“I was close to doing that, then we had an icing call and we got a TV timeout,” Vigneault explained. “During the TV timeout, we were able to talk about a couple things. That’s when I decided to go with three lines instead of four, and it seemed to help us in the second half of the first period; we were better.”
Alain Vigneault is not John Tortorella. And this is not a team that needs a stern lecture to know it’s playing poorly.
“When you go through a season, you have to find ways to handle a tough start like tonight,” said Derek Stepan, who scored his second career hat trick. “We didn’t get hurt by it, we didn’t play the way we wanted to, but we didn’t get hurt by it.”
After Brad Richards got the puck off the wall to a streaking Benoit Pouliot, he found Carl Hagelin going right down the middle. Hagelin sent a backhanded shot on Hurricanes third-string goaltender Justin Peters (33 saves) at 8:26 of the opening period, and the Rangers were on their way.
“That’s a huge momentum swing,” said Chris Kreider, who had three assists for his first-career multi-point game. “They’re kind of taking it to us early on, and we’re able to pot one like that. It wasn’t just Carl, the entire buildup — that entire play was what we had talked about doing consistently going into the game. We finally were able to do it once, and it was encouraging we were able to do it.”
“That goal was huge for us,” Lundqvist said after a 27-save performance. “We didn’t start the game the way we wanted to, but our confidence is higher now, and we’re able to control parts of the game we’re not playing great. That’s key to hockey games. You’re not going to play great for 60 minutes, they had a great start, but we managed to keep it scoreless and when we scored that first goal, it felt like we settled down a little bit.”
After Hagelin opened the scoring, the Rangers outshot Carolina 36-22 through the rest of the game, as they won going away, 5-1.
“We knew what we needed to do,” Kreider said. “It wasn’t like we started that way and kind of accepted it. We were talking on the bench, there was a lot of communication, and we figured out we needed to turn it around pretty quickly.”
A timeout wasn’t necessary. The Rangers knew what they had to do. They carried play, dominated the front of the net, and did exactly what Vigneault asked of them for the rest of the game en-route to their third straight win.
And the new Rangers coach didn’t even have to stop play to remind them to do it.