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Rangers keep believing, winning in rebuilding season

Chytil, young players help New York go on 8-1-1 run

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- David Quinn could feel it at the morning skate Monday, the difference winning makes and the impact it is having on the New York Rangers, who want nothing more than to be in the Stanley Cup Playoff race, to prove their doubters wrong.

"It felt different than some of our other pregame skates," the Rangers coach said. "We don't have a lot of them, but it felt different. There was enthusiasm. Winning does that, but what also does that is you can't lie to yourself. Hard work feels good. It feels good. These guys have put a lot into it and when you get rewarded with the wins then you really have that feeling. That's kind of the feeling we have right now." 

The Rangers won again Monday, 2-1 against the Dallas Stars at Madison Square Garden to improve to 8-1-1 since Oct. 30. They've won six in a row at home. They're in second place in the Metropolitan Division with 24 points, two behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, who lost Monday.

 

[RELATED: Chytil scores in fourth straight game to help Rangers defeat Stars | WATCH: All Stars vs. Rangers highlights]

 

They're on a near 94-point pace now. That might be enough for a top-three finish in the Metropolitan.

They've come a long way from being 3-7-1 on Oct. 28.

"We need to be in the race, that way the young players we have can feel that and understand the sense of urgency," Henrik Lundqvist said after making 16 saves against the Stars. "That was my biggest concern, we need to be in the race. We're back in it."

This wasn't supposed to happen for the Rangers, not in a rebuilding season. They were supposed to take their lumps, as they did in the first 11 games. They were supposed to be focused on developing their younger players, not pushing for first place a quarter of the way in.

Video: DAL@NYR: Chytil slings a high shot past Khudobin

But it is happening because the Rangers are working for it. They've learned from some early-season mistakes and troubles. They're earning their success.

"We have 20 guys buying into the system and what we're doing," Lundqvist said. "We believe in it. We see that it's working for us. Everybody is committed to it. Early on we played well but didn't get points, and that's hard mentally. As of late, the last three or four weeks, we're starting to get results and that's great for confidence and to settle things down."

The Rangers are 5-0-1 in one-goal games since Oct. 30. They were 2-3-1 previously.

Their past two one-goal wins, each 2-1 against the Vancouver Canucks (Nov. 12) and the Stars, were earned after surviving 6-on-5 situations, rectifying a problem that haunted them three weeks ago.

The Rangers got shootout wins at the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, the two wins that started this 8-1-1 run, only after they allowed a game-tying 6-on-5 goal each time.

Video: DAL@NYR: Vesey tucks in backhand goal while falling

Quinn said he felt the Rangers were calm during their 2:17 of 6-on-5 against Dallas. That situation used to be "heart-attack central," he said.

"I think because we've built toward that," Quinn said, "there's a confidence of, 'OK, we've done that, we've done that, and now we've got to do it again.' That's how this works."

The same can be said of the confidence building in New York's young players, most notably forward Filip Chytil, who has scored in four consecutive games after going the first 17 games without a goal.

The 19-year-old is the first teenager in Rangers history to score in four straight games. 

"We're starting to see what he can do in crucial times in the game," Lundqvist said. "Players like that, with that extremely high skill level, can be the difference on a lot of nights. It's something to appreciate right now."

Video: DAL@NYR: Lundqvist flashes the leather on Heiskanen

Brett Howden, 20, had another assist against Dallas, giving him three points (one goal, two assists) in the past four games and 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 20 games. He looks like he could be a second- or third-line center for the next decade-plus.

Jimmy Vesey, a 25-year-old forward in his third NHL season, has changed his game to be on the puck more, engaged and more aggressive. He has seven goals, including the back-to-the net, falling-down, backhanded beauty he put through Ben Bishop's five-hole Monday.

Neal Pionk, a 23-year-old defenseman, played a game-high 25:15 against Dallas. He has played 25 or more minutes six times this season and has 13 points (three goals, 10 assists). Pionk was on the ice for the final 1:29 against the Stars. He's rounding into a reliable top-pair defenseman.

As for what impresses him about the young players, Quinn said, "No. 1, how hard they work. They're coachable. They want to get better." 

Quinn, in his first season as an NHL coach, then credited their improvement to the guidance of the veteran players, mentioning Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. 

"As a young guy, you're trying to look to see the way the older guys play, and I think they've been doing a great job of that, adapting," Zibanejad said. "We're confident as a group right now."

As Quinn said, it feels good. It's also starting to feel normal.

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