NEW YORK -- With both pride and points at stake, the Rangers delivered a decisive, dominant performance against the Minnesota Wild, knocking off their Western Conference foes 4-1 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.
It was the first regulation win for the Blueshirts in what has otherwise been a dismal stretch at home. Heading into Sunday’s match, the Rangers had secured just one (shootout) win in the first seven games of a nine-game homestand at MSG.
And it wasn’t just the win itself, but the way the Rangers played to earn it that was of critical importance.
Rallying back from an early 1-0 deficit, a determined and energetic squad tied the game and never looked back. After surrendering the game’s first goal to Minnesota’s Jason Pominville 4:08 into play, the Rangers rattled off four unanswered goals and limited chances in their own end.
“Probably our best game all year when it comes to playing a full 60 minutes and everyone contributing and just spending a lot of time in their zone,” Carl Hagelin said.
Hagelin was part of an inspired second-period effort that helped the Rangers gain control after his shot from the right circle snapped a 1-all draw 11:26 into play.
But it was before Hagelin’s go-ahead goal that the ice started to tilt. In fact, it was the distinctly physical response from the Blueshirts after Mats Zuccarello was dumped by Matt Cooke in the first period that seemed to spark the team. Cooke delivered a hard check to the diminutive forward, and it immediately sparked Zuccarello’s teammates. Mild-mannered defenseman John Moore went after Cooke, with others joining in on the scrum.
“We all compete hard for each other, and the foundation for our success is to stand up for your teammates,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who picked up an assist on Benoit Pouliot’s power-play marker in the first period. “More importantly was getting after them on the scoreboard.”
After Hagelin notched his eighth of the season, the Rangers took a 3-1 lead following an end-to-end rush from center Derick Brassard that ended with Zuccarello’s one-timer from the slot.
The second period was one in which the Wild were completely outclassed, as the Rangers dictated the tempo and controlled play from the outset.
“[That] was probably our best four-line, six-defensive-pairing in a long time,” coach Alain Vigneault said after the game. “We rolled four lines, and they were all playing very smart and simple.”
What was perhaps most impressive was that the Rangers did not sit back with a two-goal lead in the third; instead, they kept pushing.
“That’s been kind of our downfall lately,” said backup netminder Cam Talbot, who stopped 24 of 25 shots in his first start since Dec. 2. “Tonight, we kept our foot on the throttle and we started to play good defense, so I think that’s something we have to do more."
"It was an all-around great effort by the guys tonight,” he said. “It’s a good team win.”