Yet, heading into Game 5 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the top-seeded Rangers are locked in a 2-2 tie with the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators, who won both of their games in this best-of-seven series in overtime in comeback fashion.
The Rangers held a one-goal lead late in Game 2, but Nick Foligno tied the game with 4:37 left in regulation as the Rangers collapsed into a defensive shell that they admitted afterward helped lead to their demise in overtime on Chris Neil's goal.
In Game 4, the Rangers jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period, but the Senators rallied with a pair of goals in the second period before Kyle Turris snapped home the winner in overtime to even the series.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Rangers were 20-0-1 during the regular season when scoring the first two goals of a game.
There wasn't a player in the Rangers locker room after practice Friday who felt a "killer instinct" was missing in those losses, but Brad Richards said there were chances in Game 4 to get ahead 3-0 or 3-1 and perhaps put the contest to bed.
"The reason why they really got going the other night was all the minutes they had on the power play in the second period. But I think we played a really strong third. I think right now, you don't really think about what we did in the last few games. I'm looking forward and focusing on the next game and not what we did in the first four." -- Henrik Lundqvist
"We want to make it 5-0," Richards said. "We're not going out there saying it's over. I can't say I want to see the guys try more or want it more. We want to win. We wanted to get the third goal. We wanted to get the fourth goal. We don't want to make it 2-2, but we have to realize they have 20 guys over there that are pretty good players and they're trying to do the same thing. They don't want to make it 3-0. They're trying to make it 2-1.
"Yeah, we'd love to have that (killer instinct). I don't think we have a different mentality whether we score that third goal or we don't today. We're still the same people and we still have the same want. We just have to make a couple more big plays."
A two-goal lead with 54 minutes remaining isn't exactly a guarantee of victory, but the Senators didn't cut the lead to one goal until 7:04 had passed in the second period. Immediately preceding that goal by Milan Michalek, the Rangers nearly made it 3-0 on a shot by defenseman Marc Staal from the slot, but it was turned aside by Senators goaltender Craig Anderson.
Staal's chance came on the second of two power plays while the Rangers maintained their two-goal lead, and they would receive a third chance in the second period to score on the power play after Michalek's goal. Instead, Sergei Gonchar converted on a Senators' man-advantage opportunity to tie the game with 2:15 left in the period.
Rangers coach John Tortorella said the inability of his team to get that third goal made all the difference.
"It was the key to the game," Tortorella said. "We had some good chances to get that third goal. Even when it was 2-0, Staal had a great chance. It was getting that third goal. When we didn't get that done in the second period, you could see the momentum change a bit and it turned into a really good game."
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who is 1-7 in overtime in his postseason career, said holding a 2-0 lead with so much time remaining is harder than it looks, especially with the Senators getting three power-play chances in the middle period.
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"When we were up 2-0, there was 50 minutes to play," Lundqvist said. "It's one thing if it's 2-0 with five minutes to go, but there was a lot of hockey left. It's a different story. The reason why they really got going the other night was all the minutes they had on the power play in the second period. But I think we played a really strong third. I think right now, you don't really think about what we did in the last few games. I'm looking forward and focusing on the next game and not what we did in the first four."
The inability to close out wins -- whether the lead is late in the third period or during the first half -- wasn't a problem in the regular season. The Rangers were 21-3-3 when leading after the first period and 35-5-3 when scoring first, the third-best mark in the NHL in that category. That number could be skewed by shootouts, which aren't part of the postseason festivities, but only two of those 35 victories came via the shootout.
In this series with the Senators, the Rangers have scored first in all four games but have lost two of them in the early moments of overtime. Captain Ryan Callahan said the reason for the Game 2 loss was the Rangers' lack of aggressiveness with the lead, but the setback in Game 4 was more about the inability to finish chances and allowing the Senators to get back in the game with their power play.
"To be honest, I think those situations are two different scenarios," Callahan said. "We gave up the lead late in that first one, where in that game we needed to keep attacking and stay on them where we maybe sat back too much. Last game, that two-goal lead is pretty early on. We still attacked, we still tried to go, but they ended up getting one on the power play and getting another one."
Tortorella said he liked the way his young players who entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs without much experience are progressing, and forward Brian Boyle -- who has three goals in the series and came into the postseason with just five playoff games under his belt -- said a lack of experience isn't an excuse for letting leads dissipate.
This is Michael Del Zotto's first postseason, and he said he's learned the difference between winning in the regular season and winning in the playoffs, and he wants to carry the lesson from bouncing back from an OT loss in Game 2 with a win Game 3 into Saturday night.
"It's completely different," Del Zotto said. "The minutes are tougher and tougher each night. You're trying to finish every check and getting hit every time you touch the puck. It's a grind out there. It's tough in front of the net.
"I think we've done it all year. Every time we had a loss, we did a good job of bouncing back. We're not a team that gets too high or too low. We're on an even keel all the time. We've done a good job responding and we're looking to do the same thing tomorrow."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo