The Rangers suddenly have won two of three since the NHL All-Star break, five of their last seven and two straight. So they are hoping to build a different kind of feeling around the Garden entering Monday night’s visit from the rival Devils.
No doubt, Henrik Lundqvist’s soft third-period goals allowed in last week’s 3-2 loss in Newark and Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win in Philadelphia are concerns. The Rangers (29-18-5, 63 points) facing deficits in consecutive comeback wins over the careening Minnesota Wild and mediocre Flyers is also a worry.
Still, as Lundqvist accurately said Saturday in Philly: “Winning is great. It doesn’t matter how you do it.” This team, which holds second-place in the Metropolitan Division by three points over the Islanders, is finding ways to win lately after uncovering so many different ways to lose in December.
The Rangers looked flawed even during a 16-3-2 start through Nov. 23, and their shortcomings caught up to them during a 3-9-2 tailspin from Nov. 25-Dec. 20. Since then, however, the Rangers are 10-6-1 in their last 17 games, including Saturday’s refuse-to-lose finish in the City of Brotherly Love.
Keith Yandle was clutch. Jesper Fast was everywhere. Kevin Hayes is back-checking and getting back to his strengths of protecting the puck, using his big body, and distributing. J.T. Miller has been excellent and Chris Kreider’s confidence seems to be returning, culminating with an excellent deflection goal against the Flyers.
“It shows to ourselves what type of mentality you need to win games: That desperation, determination,” Lundqvist said of the comeback in Philadelphia. “You could feel it on the ice.”
The Blueshirts are 0-1-1 against the Devils (26-20-7, 59 points) this season, though, and facing three Metropolitan Division foes in their next four games could be good or bad. A trip to Pittsburgh awaits Wednesday, a rematch with the Flyers at the Garden beckons Sunday, and every result impacts a tight race.
The situation perfectly illustrates the conundrum first-year GM Jeff Gorton faces in deciding whether to be a big buyer or not at the Feb. 29 trade deadline: Gutty wins and more consistent results could embolden him, but slippage in just one pivotal week could discourage him from parting with resources for a splash.
For Gorton, if Rick Nash (left leg bone bruise) can return and start scoring anytime soon after missing five straight games, it might feel a little bit like a major deadline acquisition up front. The Rangers’ short-term concern, though, is the health of captain Ryan McDonagh.
Super Bowl Sunday was an off-day for the Rangers, so McDonagh’s status is unknown after he sustained a likely concussion on Saturday’s sucker-punch to the head from Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.
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