Big win a statement for Rangers


NEW YORK -- They say all that matters is the win. They want to believe that.

On nights such as Sunday, you realize it's not true.

You see it in Derek Stepan's face. You see it in Cam Talbot's face. You feel it in the New York Rangers' locker room after a 7-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

The wins all count the same in the standings, and this one sent the Rangers to the top of the entire league -- even on points with the Ducks and the Montreal Canadiens but with games in hand on both. But each game is different, and this one came packaged with enough satisfying sidelights to help carry the Rangers through the days and weeks to come.

Part of it was the opponent, a Ducks team that has topped the Western Conference standings.

"Against an elite team like that, you want to have your best game," defenseman Marc Staal said.

Part of it was all the goals, in particular the two from Stepan, who hadn't put the puck in the net for 14 games and hadn't recorded a point in 12. His first came on the power play, ended a Ranger drought in that category and also provided Keith Yandle with his first Rangers point.

The Rangers have been winning without Stepan's scoring. They've been winning without the power play clicking. They began the night Sunday with a 15-2-2 record in their past 19 games. They were 7-1-1 in their past nine games, even though they'd scored just 17 goals in those nine games (and just six in their past four).

They said it was playoff-type hockey, that it was good news that they could play and win games such as that. But even if coach Alain Vigneault was talking about all the other things players such as Stepan were doing, Stepan kept thinking about the one thing he wasn't doing.

"It wasn't easy," he said of the scoring drought. "At times, it was very difficult. I wanted to contribute offensively in the worst way."

He wanted a game such as Sunday, when he deflected a puck to Chris Kreider and watched Kreider put it in the net just 1:24 into the first period. A few minutes later, with the Rangers on the power play, Stepan shot through a Kreider screen and got the puck past Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen.

Andersen had a particularly bad night, giving up three goals on just seven shots. Backup John Gibson wasn't much better.

"The difference in the game was that Cam was that much better than their goaltenders," Vigneault said.

Not at first. Talbot gave up two first-period goals, and he was upset with himself after both of them. But while the Rangers kept scoring, the defense tightened up, and Talbot redeemed himself with several big saves among the 36 he was credited with (including one big one to deny Corey Perry a hat trick).

"It's nice not to give someone a hat trick in your building," Talbot said. "I wasn't too happy with the two goals that went in. I just tried to settle myself down."

What at the start looked like a high-scoring game turned out to be just that -- but only at one end of the ice. The Rangers' seven goals were a season high and the most they'd scored in a game at Madison Square Garden since a March 6, 2011, game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Rangers' 99 points are already more than they finished with the past season, and with a win or an overtime/shootout loss Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings, they'd reach 100 points in the second-fewest games in franchise history.

They have been at their best in games against elite teams, but they shy away from saying wins such as Sunday's can make any kind of lasting statement.

"This time of year, statement games are a little overrated," Staal said. "We know who we are."

They know they're good, and they know the real time to prove it will come when the playoffs begin. Until then, they work to win as many games as they can -- but also get themselves ready physically and mentally for the playoffs.

All the wins help, but games such as Sunday remind you there's more to it. Stepan said his scoring drought was a little easier to take because the team was winning, but it still wasn't easy to take.

This one was easier. This one felt better.

That was the only statement the Rangers needed.