NEW YORK -- The good New York Rangers showed up at Madison Square Garden on Monday, roughly 48 hours after the bad Rangers left San Jose with a frustrating loss that prompted a players-only meeting.
The Rangers won't play too far into the spring if they stay as bipolar as they have been of late. That's why they're hoping their 4-2 win at home against the Florida Panthers is the start of a strong late-season push toward a long run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It was great to see the way we responded as a group after last game," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "It also shows how much focus to details, determination, how much it can change the look out there. Going from last game to this game, it's like two different teams."
Last game, a 4-1 loss at the San Jose Sharks, was an exercise in futility for the Rangers. They broke down far too often in front of Lundqvist, allowing three goals in the third period and 52 shots in total. They had 26.
Video: FLA@NYR: Zuccarello beats Montoya top-shelf
Against Florida, they allowed three shots in the first period, 12 through two, and built a 2-0 lead going into the third.
New York withstood a late push by Florida thanks to Lundqvist (25 saves) and offense from its forwards, which was a problem on its California trip last week. The Rangers got two goals from their forwards in three games against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Sharks. They went 1-1-1 in those games.
Four different forwards scored against Florida, including Rick Nash, whose goal at 11:14 of the third period wound up as the game-winner.
New York (41-24-8) has a two-point lead for second place in the Metropolitan Division on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have a game in hand.
Video: FLA@NYR: Lundqvist stops a flurry of shots in 2nd
The Panthers (40-24-9) are first in the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning and three ahead of the Boston Bruins. They play at Boston on Thursday and at Tampa Bay on Saturday.
It was Nash's first goal since Dec. 30 and first point in six games since returning from a 20-game absence because of a left-leg injury. The goal came less than two minutes after Lundqvist preserved a 2-1 lead with a save on Jussi Jokinen's shot off a shorthanded rush at 9:31.
"After I made that save, we get the puck up there and I was kind of hoping for Nash to get one, and it played perfectly," Lundqvist said. "I think that goal meant a lot to him and it was a big goal for the team as well, so it was nice to see."
In addition to Nash, Viktor Stalberg ended a 17-game goal drought when he scored in the first period, Mats Zuccarello ended a four-game point drought with a power-play goal in the second, and Tanner Glass got an empty-net goal with 8.2 seconds left.
"We all felt more like ourselves there," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "I thought we were back defending the way we want to and keeping a lot of their skilled and rush plays to a minimum. All around, a lot of guys contributing throughout our lineup."
Video: FLA@NYR: Stalberg slips it past Montoya
To McDonagh's point, the Panthers pushed in the third. Vincent Trocheck and Jiri Hudler scored, but each goal came when the Rangers were ahead by two.
Florida also had a would-be goal from defenseman Steven Kampfer waved off at 2:28 of the third period because of a high stick. The call stood after the NHL Situation Room ruled "video review was inconclusive" in determining if Kampfer's stick was at or below the level of the crossbar when he swatted the puck into the net.
"It was a bad night," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "You can't show up and play 15 minutes. That's all we played tonight. The Rangers dominated the first two periods, and there's no excuse for that."
The Panthers nearly cut into the Rangers' 2-0 lead late in the second period, but Jokinen's shot from the slot with Lundqvist laying prone on the ice hit the right post and slid through the snow across the goal line before Lundqvist finally covered it with his body.
Video: FLA@NYR: Hudler smacks a rebound past Lundqvist
Jokinen's attempt happened toward the end of a chaotic sequence in Lundqvist's crease that featured referee T.J. Luxmore in the blue paint. Luxmore had to leap to avoid Jokinen's shot from hitting him. He nearly landed flat on Lundqvist's blocker.
Gallant said it was the first time he can recall seeing the referee standing in the crease during a sequence in front of the net. Typically, the referee is behind or to the side of the net.
"He did a good job of getting away from the puck, but maybe next time he'll stay outside the posts to play it safe," Lundqvist said with a smile.
Lundqvist was smiling for a reason; he got some help Monday. It was a good night for the good Rangers. The question now is which team will show up against Boston on Wednesday.
"We talk about working smart, and that's something that going forward is a big key for our group," New York center Derek Stepan said. "I don't think there's ever been a question of work ethic in here; I think it's at times working the right way, working the smart way. Those are big things in playoff hockey, and in these last [nine] games."
Video: Rangers double up Panthers, 4-2