NEW YORK -- Even when the New York Rangers aren't at their best, they're still good enough to beat one of the better teams in the Western Conference.
Playing their third game in four nights at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers looked like a tired team as they were outplayed by the Los Angeles Kings during the final two periods. But two first-period power-play goals by Vinny Prospal, a beauty of a wrister by Marian Gaborik in the third period, and stellar play between the pipes from Henrik Lundqvist was enough to give the Rangers a 4-2 win, their sixth victory in a row.
The win leaves the Rangers (6-1-0) in a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the best record in the NHL. But to hear coach John Tortorella tell it after the game, his team wasn't even the best one on the ice Wednesday.
"We couldn't catch up with them," Tortorella said. "We looked like a tired hockey club. I thought the guys tried, it certainly wasn't through lack of effort, but we just couldn't win a battle. They came out of the corners with quite a few pucks. We just couldn't catch up with them.
"It's a good team. They're not 4-1 coming in here because of a fluke. They're a quick team, they pass the puck well, and we were a step behind in every facet of the game, but we still found a way to win. Hank was outstanding."
Great goaltending can do wonders for covering up a subpar overall performance, and Lundqvist did just that. He stopped 23 of 24 shots over the final two periods and all 10 during the third period when the Rangers only mustered one shot on goal.
"It's not easy playing the third game at home in a row, five wins in a row," explained Lundqvist. "You get a little comfortable. That's the way it is. The toughest part is, obviously, the mental part. We know they are a really good team. They showed it, especially in the second period where we struggled.
"The good part is that we don't panic."
One reason the Rangers don't panic is Gaborik, whose world-class goal at 4:22 of the third period extended the lead to two goals and gave his team some breathing room. He took a long pass from Prospal that was a little bit behind him, forcing Gaborik to "walk the dog" across the blue line.
"I was trying to wait for it so it's not offsides," Gaborik said of what it means to walk the dog across the blue line. "I had to slow down a little bit so it's not offsides."
Then in the blink of an eye, Gaborik moved the puck into a shooting position and snapped a shot over the catching glove of goaltender Erik Ersberg, who stopped 17 of 21 shots in his first start of the season. It was the Slovak sniper's sixth of the season, and every goal has come in the third period.
But none of them was as pretty as the one he scored Wednesday.
"That goal today was world class and it came at the right time," Lundqvist said.
"That is what a world-class player does. They step up at the right time."
"That is where game breakers make it," Tortorella said of Gaborik's six goals in the third period this season. "That is just a great shot tonight. I thought Gaborik was our best player in all facets of the game."
"It's a good team (Los Angeles). They're not 4-1 coming in here because of a fluke. They're a quick team, they pass the puck well, and we were a step behind in every facet of the game, but we still found a way to win. Hank was outstanding." -- John Tortorella
Lost in the shuffle of Gaborik's highlight-reel goal and Lundqvist's rock-solid night was the performance of Prospal. With two goals and an assist Wednesday, he now has three goals and 10 points in seven games with the Rangers.
"He's a great player," Gaborik said of Prospal. "(He is) a great playmaker who works hard out there every shift and you can see it. He looks for players, he battles hard and it pays off."
Prospal's two power-play goals in the first period were sandwiched around a goal by the Kings' Ryan Smyth, his fifth of the season. Ex-Kings forward Brian Boyle scored his first goal as a Ranger to make it 3-1 early in the second period, but Michal Handzus answered on the power play to pull the Kings within 3-2.
From that point on, it was as if L.A. signed a two-period lease to live in the Rangers' zone. Kings coach Terry Murray didn't find it hard to see a silver lining in the way his team played against the red-hot Rangers.
"I am very proud of the effort here tonight," Murray said. "There was a great intensity and work on the puck. I thought in the second and third periods in particular, we really stepped up in the offensive zone and were able to make plays and put some pucks on net."
The biggest difference between winning and losing on Wednesday night was obvious.
"Lundqvist was very good," Murray said.
And the Rangers, for the sixth game in a row, were good enough.
-- Dave Lozo, NHL.com
Michael Del Zotto
1 - 0 NYR
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NYR
Michael Del Zotto
3 - 1 NYR
3 - 2 NYR
4 - 2 NYR
Interference - Goalkeeper