The Rangers' 4-2 win over the Jets Monday night was the decisive type of victory the team needed following two straight shutout losses.
There was a rally, some resilience and an offensive outburst Monday night that was conspicuously absent in the Blueshirts' two-game skid to close out last week’s road trip.
First-line center Derek Stepan notched a pair of goals, captain Ryan Callahan scored a game-changing short-handed marker and the team’s penalty kill was stingy in holding off a series sweep from the Jets.
“We’ve got no excuses,” said Rick Nash, who added his team-leading 13th goal of the season as insurance in the third period. “We’re a desperate team right now. We need wins so we had no other choice. It has to carry momentum.”
The Rangers retained their claim on the eighth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings (even with the surprising Islanders handing the Devils a 3-1 loss in Newark, N.J.) in the team’s last game before the NHL’s trade deadline on Wednesday at 3 p.m.
Monday’s win prompts an interesting decision from general manager Glen Sather and the rest of the Rangers’ brass as the deadline nears and the flurry of activity intensifies.
Twice in the past week, the Rangers have served up big wins, all-around efforts that suggest the team is at least capable of playing up to its preseason potential.
Then again, the Rangers have been shut out twice in the past week as well -- a pair of spirit-sapping shutouts that have added a healthy dose of skepticism to the Rangers’ playoff hopes and the direction of the team overall.
And what has been particularly maddening about this Rangers team is that it keeps straddling that line, failing to play with the consistency that would assure Sather it’s worth making a meaningful move, but never quite surrendering to the type of full-out tailspin that would convince Sather to stand pat (or simply focus on moving salary out).
Even Monday night was a prime example of this. The Rangers found themselves trailing 2-1 heading into the first intermission after scoring just 19 seconds into play and taking an early 1-0 lead.
“I think they have confidence, it’s just when something doesn’t go right for them in the game, we lose some of that quick resiliency,” coach John Tortorella said. “Maybe tonight was a good lesson for us. They have to grab something to keep themselves aware and I believe it will come.”
With less than two days until the deadline, activity picked up Monday night with veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr and Jay Bouwmeester both reportedly on the move. But coveted blueliners come with a steep price these days, and the market established for those players may be higher than the Rangers are willing to go.
The Rangers have been searching for a suitable replacement for Michael Sauer -- a right-handed defenseman who can play in their top four -- since Sauer went down with a concussion last year. That search has been fruitless so far, and this time of year doesn’t make it any easier.
At the least, Monday proves that the Rangers can be competitive. Assuming they make it into the playoffs, they could still be one of the toughest teams in the East. But, without Callahan’s critical second-period goal, Wednesday’s strategy could’ve seemed dramatically more simplistic. Surely plenty of people would be questioning whether the team would make the cut at all.
Perhaps the best test will come on D-Day itself, not with Sather working the phones, but with the Rangers facing the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins.
Even without Sidney Crosby, who is out indefinitely with a broken jaw, the Penguins are riding a 15-game winning streak that has them in first place in the East.
“First 10 minutes of the next game is going to be a great challenge for us,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who finished the night with 26 saves. “We play the best team in the league right now and all they can bring. We have to play at our best to win those games.”