NEW YORK -- Coming off one of their worst games of the season, the New York Rangers reasserted themselves as the NHL's top team.
Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves and Dan Girardi scored the deciding goal in the Rangers' 3-0 win against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The Predators entered the game winners of five straight and eight of nine, and were four points back of the Rangers in the overall standings.
The Rangers were handled with ease in a 4-1 loss to the Canadiens in Montreal on Sunday. But as has been the case all season, they didn't let one bad performance turn into a losing skid. The Rangers entered Tuesday's game losers in two of three, but they have now won 12 of 15.
It was just the latest sign that the Rangers, who lead the League with 62 points in 44 games, have done a lot of growing up this season.
"I think we're more mature," said Lundqvist, whose fourth shutout of the season followed two losses in which he allowed seven goals on 53 shots. "We know how we have to play. So far, every time we lose our focus on how we have to play, we correct it pretty fast. That's key. If you want to stay in top position, you have to correct things right away. You can't let it slide. It's a really good thing to have."
John Mitchell scored midway through the second period and Ryan Callahan was credited with an empty-net goal when he was impeded on a breakaway with 59.6 seconds left in regulation.
The Predators were without defenseman Ryan Suter (upper-body injury) and starting goaltender Pekka Rinne was given a rare night off after a dazzling performance Monday afternoon against the Islanders. Backup Anders Lindback made 26 saves in just his fifth start of the season.
The Rangers are one of a handful of teams that have yet to lose three straight games in regulation this season. They opened the season 0-1-2, but haven't lost three in a row in any fashion since that time.
"We weren't happy with our game in Montreal at all," Callahan said. "I think this whole year, we've responded well after poor performances. Coming in tonight, we wanted to do the same, especially at home. Throughout the year, you're going to have bad games. You're going to have games where you're not at your best.
"Good teams respond from that and don’t let it snowball and turn into two losses or three losses. The big thing for us is after a game like that, we come back as a group and we respond. I think it's the maturity of the group."
Girardi's fourth goal of the season at 6:15 of the first period was fluky, but it counted just the same for the first-time All-Star. His shot from the right-wing boards deflected off the stick of Predators defenseman Jack Hillen and fluttered past Lindback to make it 1-0.
Girardi wasn't trying to do much on the play, which is something the players talked about before facing the Predators.
"I think if we dwell on that game (the loss to Montreal) and think too much about that game, it's going to creep into our game and maybe we think we have to do a little too much out there to get back on the right track," Girardi said. "It's good to get right back at it after a tough game."
Mitchell made it 2-0 at 10:42 with his fourth goal of the season, which came in a similar fashion to Girardi's goal in the first period. Mitchell saw an opening to get the puck on net, and it slipped through Lindback thanks partly to a screen from Predators defenseman Roman Josi.
"I had been out there a while, so I was just trying to get a shot on the net and rebound or something could come from it," Mitchell said. "I was able to get some pretty good mustard on it. I wasn't sure if I beat him over or through the chicken wing there, but it worked out good."
Not long after the Rangers grabbed a two-goal lead, Lundqvist was called upon to make his toughest stops of the night.
David Legwand broke in behind the Rangers defense for a 1-on-1 chance, but Lundqvist came up with the save. Patric Hornqvist had a golden chance on the rebound, but Lundqvist denied him to preserve the two-goal cushion.
Lundqvist, who tied Rangers legend Eddie Giacomin's record for shutouts at Madison Square Garden with 29, said he wanted to be more aggressive after back-to-back straight poor outings.
"I don't know if I was seeing the puck more, but we didn't have as many shots from right in front," Lundqvist said. "In Montreal, there was a lot of shots from right in front. Maybe I wasn't as aggressive as I wanted to be. I tried to correct that tonight. I play very deep so I need to be active when I play. I didn't feel great, but I was battling and it worked out."
The game was far closer than the 3-0 score indicated. Lindback played well, only allowing a pair of goals in which his defense didn't exactly help him out.
"I thought we played a really solid game, missing a couple of top-end guys," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought Lindy gave us a real good game. I thought Lundqvist was really solid in net, and we just couldn't bury one. They have a good hockey team. I said to our guys, we didn't really take a step backwards, even though we lost the game. I thought we stacked up quite well against the Rangers tonight."
New York coach John Tortorella agreed that while his team played well, there were times when the Rangers showed glimpses of the one that struggled in Montreal -- but when that happened, Lundqvist was there to bail them out.
"When we got into a track meet there in the second period for six or seven minutes, Hank made some really good saves," Tortorella said. "Hank played very well. He lost the last two, and he was itching to go. I still think we made quite a few mistakes in situations, but I think he played well when we had breakdowns."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
1 - 0 NYR
2 - 0 NYR
3 - 0 NYR
Interference on goalkeeper
Hi stick - double minor