- After losing eight of their first 10 games, the Rangers have suddently rattled off eight victories in their last 11 outings.
NEW YORK — The fans at Madison Square Garden erupted into euphoria late in the third period Sunday night. The hysteria reverberating around the rink didn’t even follow a Rangers goal.
Sure, it got noisy when Michael Grabner deflected Marc Staal’s shot from the point over Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson’s glove earlier in the frame. That tally gave the home team a 2-0 advantage. The arena also clamored with craziness when Mika Zibanejad flung the puck from his own blue line into an empty Senators net to seal a 3-0 victory.
But the most emphatic ovation came five minutes earlier after the Rangers successfully killed off a five-minute major. Brendan Smith received a game misconduct after getting tangled up with Ottawa defenseman Matt Borowiecki, who went crashing into the corner and slammed the back of his head on the boards.
Though dealing Borowiecki a concussion clearly wasn’t Smith’s intention, he still left his teammates saddled with the burden of a lengthy penalty kill. And with the help of a boisterous fanbase applauding every defensive zone clearance, they executed it nearly flawlessly. Netminder Henrik Lundqvist only saw one shot on goal during the major.
“When you get that kind of support like I got tonight—clearing in front of me, getting to rebounds—it’s easy to play in goal,” Lundqvist said. He earned the 63rd shutout of his storied career and only had to stop 20 shots to get it.
Solid play out front is what Lundqvist has come to expect recently. After losing eight of their first 10 games, the Rangers have rattled off eight victories in their last 11. They’ve found solace at the Garden—Sunday’s win marked six in a row at MSG.
“There’s no doubt that our guys feel comfortable here,” head coach Alain Vigneault said.
Comfortability eludes his team away from home ice. New York only has two road victories, fewest of any team in the league. The contrasting outcomes at home versus on the road relate to how the games have started. Eight of the Rangers’ 10 wins have come after getting on the board first. Eight of their 11 total losses have come after surrendering the first score.
“I think it’s always good to get a good start and play with the lead,” Mats Zuccarello, who had two assists against Ottawa and leads the team with 13, said. “It’s hard to chase.”
The Rangers never chased the Senators, controlling the pace of play from the drop of the puck. New York took two penalties in the game’s first seven minutes, but both were effectively extinguished with quick puck pursuit and long lobs down the ice.
When the team finally settled in, it led to a flurry of shot attempts in the final 30 seconds of the first period. Momentum had been mustered, leading to Kevin Hayes’s sizzling snipe five minutes into the second. The Rangers sat on the lead with the aide of periodic stops from Lundqvist. Each time their beloved backstop made a save, the fans roared. They chanted, “Henrik! Henrik!” as time dwindled and the win drew near.
“It’s a great feeling every time you win at home,” Lundqvist said. “We really gain the most confidence when we win in front of home fans. I think the last couple weeks we played with a little bit more urgency and determination.”
The Rangers are rolling, and the only hindrance to their success seems to be foreign territory. A 6-3 loss in Chicago halted their six-game winning streak last week. They followed it up with a 2-0 defeat in Columbus. The schedule has been home heavy thus far, with 14 of 21 games being played at the Garden.
Five of the Rangers’ final six games of the season will be played on the road. Though April is a long way off, they’ll have to figure out how win away from MSG if they plan on being in contention by then. Lundqvist sees signs of synergy and believes his team is on the cusp of making it happen.
“The deciding factor is going to be consistency,” he said. “What team can be consistent enough to get enough points? The last two or three weeks, I think we’re right there. I think we’re pretty close to where we want to be and how we want to play.”