-- Most players and coaches will tell you that consistency is what separates contenders from pretenders throughout the course of an 82-game NHL regular season.
For the New York Rangers
, that philosophy was put to test Monday night when they took on the Pittsburgh Penguins
in an Atlantic Division clash at the Consol Energy Center.
On the line was the chance not only to gain ground in the chase for Eastern Conference supremacy but, more importantly, the chance to improve on a two-game winning streak.
After nearly 65 minutes of up-and-down, constant momentum-changing hockey, the Rangers passed the test and, in the process grabbed the oft-difficult third game in a row in a 3-2 overtime victory and moved a step closer toward becoming a consistent club — a contender.
That process hasn't gone unnoticed by the Blueshirts in the locker room.
"We knew we had to put some wins together," overtime hero Ryan Callahan
said after the game. "We were winning one, then losing one. Winning two, losing one… We wanted to try and get a streak here. Three in a row is pretty good, but we got to keep this going."
That kind of mindset can propel a team to great lengths, but equally as important as hunger are the between-the-lines lessons.
"The biggest thing we need to understand is that we're not going to win on a regular basis playing the way we did," said forward Brandon Dubinsky
, who collected two assists in the game, including a dazzling setup on Callahan's game-winner.
"But you're not going to play your best 82 games a year. So if you can find a way to win games you're not supposed to, that's big for our team, and I think that's what winning teams do."
They also kill penalty well, which the Rangers had to do six times, including a brief 4-on-3 and a four-minute double minor.
The Penguins failed to convert on either opportunity, but had more scoring chances than is healthy for a goaltender or coach's heart. Allowing a goal would've almost been acceptable, given the Penguins' potency and playing on the road, but the Rangers refused and showed that their true colors were more black and blue than red, white and blue.
"I thought that was the best part of our game," said Henrik Lundqvist
, who stopped 37 shots, including many of the highlight-reel elk. "Without that, I think we would've lost that game. We just did a great job of holding it together."
Not coincidentally did he use the word together, either. Rangers coach John Tortorella has established that word as a sort of rallying cry even before the season had begun and is proudly seeing his team buy in to that philosophy and treat it like an imperative modus operandi.
"It's a good building block, especially for the foundation of our team, our youngsters," he said. "These games here, although you feel like crap when you're down 2-1 after how hard you've played and you end up kind of blowing it there a little bit … to then come back to win it, it's a hell of a lot better way to win it this way than an 8-2 game.
"I think it helps your team in the long run, playing these types of games against top-notch teams like Pittsburgh."
Dubinsky, an integral part of the Rangers core of "youngsters," agreed with that sentiment.
"We want to try to chase the teams at the top of the conference," he said. "We have to make sure we come into every game and be ready to play."