NEW YORK -- John Tortorella must have had sweat dripping down his back and some choice words for his players as the final seconds of regulation time bled off the clock Thursday, but the Rangers coach proudly praised his team's guts following a wild 4-3 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings.
"We've been like that all year long," Tortorella said, "and I like that about our club."
Gorgeous shootout goals from Erik Christensen and Mats Zuccarello lifted the Rangers to their second win in as many games after a 0-5-1 slide. They blew a pair of one-goal leads in the third period -- a fact not lost on their coach -- but it wasn't enough to sway his opinion about his club, which with 66 points remains seventh in the Eastern Conference.
"Are we playing our best hockey now? No. Did we make some mistakes? Yes," Tortorella said. "But, we do, we've got some balls and I hope that keeps transforming and you find ways to win hockey games in the grind that's going to come up here. We've got a tough schedule."
The Rangers are in Newark on Friday night to take on the red-hot Devils. They host the first-place Flyers on Sunday.
"We've just got to try to squeeze everything out of ourselves as we go through this," Tortorella added. "I'm really happy we found a way to get the two points to start the weekend."
On the other side of the hallway, Kings coach Terry Murray was just as happy to get one point. With it Los Angeles moved into the top eight in the Western Conference, knocking Calgary out. The Kings are now 8-0-3 in their past 11 games, a monumental improvement from the 2-10-0 stretch they went through from Dec. 29-Jan. 20.
"We've got it back together," Murray said. "We're OK. We're coming together."
Considering this was their eighth straight road game and that they played in Columbus on Wednesday -- winning in a shootout no less -- Murray's team had an excuse to fold after Marian Gaborik's knuckling shot beat goalie Jonathan Bernier (34 saves) to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead 6:10 into the third period.
Matt Greene scored his first goal of the season exactly 100 seconds later to make it 2-2. His shot from the right point deflected off Brian Boyle's stick and changed direction enough to fool Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (25 saves).
The Kings had to be exhausted and deflated after Artem Anisimov was credited with yet another go-ahead goal for the Rangers 16:52 into the third period. Anisimov got a piece of Brandon Dubinsky's shot and the puck went in off Bernier's skate.
Guess what? The Kings responded.
Dustin Brown scored his second of the night 47 seconds later to send the game into overtime. He lifted a bad-angle shot from the goal line and the puck actually bounced off the back of Lundqvist's head and into the net.
"We lost a point, but I'm looking at it as a tremendous third period," Murray said. "We're playing back to back, we get to our beds last night at 3 in the morning and it's demanding to come to the building today and play a team that has been sitting here fresh and a team that is playing pretty good.
"We come back twice in the period, so I'm not looking at it as a loss at all. It's very positive."
Murray had to be pleased with how overtime went, too, considering the Kings started a man down thanks to Alexei Ponikarovsky's double-minor for high sticking Marc Staal at the end of regulation. The Rangers couldn't capitalize and 1:48 into the extra session Dubinsky was called for high-sticking, creating the rare 3-on-3 situation.
Neither team looked like it had much of a plan during 3-on-3, but it's hard to blame them. Tortorella pointed out that it's not something they ever practice because it rarely ever happens.
"I just don't want to get scored on there," Tortorella said. "You sit there and hope."
His wishes came true as the game went to a shootout. The Kings came in 7-1 in tiebreakers, but the Rangers were 5-2 and have three of the best shooters in the NHL in Christensen, Zuccarello and Wojtek Wolski. Lundqvist isn't too shabby in goal either, and he's confident knowing his guys will likely score for him.
Christensen improved to 4-for-4 on the season with a nifty forehand-to-backhand move, and Zuccarello went to 5-for-6 by slowing up before he used his quick hands to beat Bernier. Jarret Stoll kept the shootout alive by snapping a shot past Lundqvist and Wolski was stopped by Bernier's poke check, but it Lundqvist stopped Anze Kopitar in the third to seal it -- and pick up his 200th career victory.
"When we scored the second one we felt like we had it, and when we scored the third one we definitely felt like we had it," Lundqvist said. "They had some luck there I think on the two goals, it bounced on our guy and the third one hit my head and went in. They kept working so we have to give it to them, but we responded in the right way."
The response from both teams was indicative of how they approached Thursday's game. Neither wanted to give up that extra point, let alone two, because of how valuable they are nowadays.
The Kings are smack dab in the middle of an unreal race in the Western Conference and were just hoping to keep a good thing going. The Rangers lost six in a row before beating Pittsburgh on Sunday, so they desperately wanted another win to start building a streak and pulling away from Carolina, Atlanta and Buffalo.
New York won, but it's hard to say Los Angeles lost.
"You knew they weren't going to give up or let up," said New York's Ryan Callahan, who scored a goal, had an assist and was easily the best forward on the ice. "It's a good team over there. They've got a lot of speed, they work hard and it's really tough to get through the neutral zone on them. But we kept at it, kept with the game plan and it paid off in the end.
"It's really big. We showed some character through it."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
|PPG - Dustin Brown (19) ASST: Justin Williams (26), Jack Johnson (33)|
1 - 0 LAK
|Ryan Callahan (15) ASST: Derek Stepan (18), Artem Anisimov (18)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Marian Gaborik (17) ASST: Michael Sauer (6)|
2 - 1 NYR
|Matt Greene (1) ASST: Brad Richardson (7), Anze Kopitar (38)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Artem Anisimov (13) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (24), Ryan Callahan (15)|
3 - 2 NYR
|Dustin Brown (20) ASST: Rob Scuderi (12), Alec Martinez (7)|
3 - 3 Tie
|1||E. Christensen||M. Handzus||1 - 0|
|2||M. Zuccarello||J. Stoll||2 - 1|
|3||W. Wolski||A. Kopitar||2 - 1|
|Brandon Dubinsky Boarding against Willie Mitchell|
|Drew Doughty Cross checking against Marian Gaborik|
|Anze Kopitar Hooking against Marc Staal|
|Michael Del Zotto Tripping against Dustin Brown|
|Brandon Dubinsky Interference on goalkeeper against Jonathan Bernier|
|Alexei Ponikarovsky Hi stick - double minor against Marc Staal|
|Brandon Dubinsky Hi-sticking against Willie Mitchell|