It was only a week ago that the New York Rangers were mired in a bit of a funk, having lost three of four and playing a poor brand of hockey. There were some concerning signs, as the club appeared to be limping into the playoffs, where they would possibly be quite vulnerable if that level of play continued.
Three straight victories later — all by star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist as he settles back in following a vascular injury that kept him out for over a month — and the Blueshirts are now once again looking like a team that perhaps the rest of the league should be scared of.
Coming off disappointing weekend losses in Boston and at home against Washington, things were only going to get more difficult for the Rangers, as they had to travel north of the border to face a desperate Winnipeg Jets team in the uber-loud MTS Centre, followed by a date back in the States with the red-hot Minnesota Wild.
However, these types of challenges proved to be just the tonic the Rangers needed to recapture their mojo, as they shook off a slow start in Winnipeg and rallied for a 3-2 victory in a hostile environment against a team that had much more at stake than they did. They overcame a 1-0 deficit, a 2-1 deficit, and even frustration and pain caused by the Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien’s then-unpenalized brutality against forward J.T. Miller.
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In the end, Chris Kreider fittingly skated by and shook off Byfuglien to net the winner for New York with under five minutes remaining in the third period. Perhaps even more fittingly, it was a brilliant pass from none other than Miller that sprung Kreider for the go-ahead tally.
It wasn’t a perfect game from the Rangers, but they once again found a way to win and were beginning to regain some of their swagger. That carried over to St. Paul, where the Blueshirts jumped on the Wild early for a 2-0 lead after one period of play. Minnesota got stronger as the game went on and eventually tied the game at 2 in the third period. The Rangers, however, answered right back to take the lead for good, as great plays by Kreider and captain Ryan McDonagh culminated in Miller scoring on a deflection.
The hard-fought win against Minnesota underscored the Rangers’ strength and resilience away from Madison Square Garden, as they earned their 26th road victory of the season, breaking the previous franchise record of 25 that was set just last year. As it turned out, the Rangers just needed to get away for a bit to get back on top of their game.
Lundqvist and Others Heating Up
In their victories over Winnipeg and Minnesota, Lundqvist shined and looked like his old self after a shaky first game back in Boston. The King continued the upward trend in his play in Saturday’s contest against the pesky New Jersey Devils, turning aside 35 shots as New York rolled to a 6-1 victory.
The win was the Rangers’ 50th of the season — only the fourth time they have reached that mark in team history. It’s a testament to how strong they have been all season — especially since early December — and how they have been able to quickly regain their mojo whenever they have gone through brief struggles.
“It means we’ve been doing a lot of good things this year,” Lundqvist said of reaching the 50-win plateau. “Coming back from last year we set the bar high, and we wanted to give ourselves the chance to play for the Cup again. This is the first part — you have to take care of business in the regular season — but the big challenge is still ahead.” (blueshirtsunited.com)
Lundqvist’s return not only to the lineup, but also to form, could not be coming at a better time for the Rangers, who will lean on him to make another deep run in the playoffs this year. On the offensive side of things, the Blueshirts are also seeing consistent contributions from several key players, a welcome sign as the postseason draws closer.
Trade-deadline acquisition Keith Yandle is growing more comfortable, with eight points in his past eight games. Derek Stepan now has nine points in the past eight games after going through an awful dry spell of a dozen contests where he was held off the score-sheet. Rick Nash, who recently went through his first cold stretch of the season with just one goal in eleven games, now has three in his past five.
The list goes on:
- Derick Brassard: Three goals and two assists in his past four games
- Chris Kreider: Three goals and four assists in his past six games
- J.T. Miller: Three goals and four assists in his past nine games
- Mats Zuccarello: Three goals and six assists in his past nine games
- Dominic Moore: Three goals in his past two games
- Ryan McDonagh: Six assists in his past four games
If the Rangers continue to get these kinds of contributions from this many players, they are not going to be a fun matchup for any team in the playoffs.