NEW YORK -- Lessons learned.
The New York Rangers evened their best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series against the Montreal Canadiens with a 2-1 win in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday because they didn't repeat the same mistakes they made to lose Games 2 and 3.
"Today we played like we do when we're playing our game," Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said. "Today was a good testament to what kind of team we are when we're on top of our game and we really do what we talk about. Guys worked for each other. Guys knew how important this game was for us and went out there and got the job done."
The Rangers lost 4-3 in overtime in Game 2 after sitting back in the third period, trying to hold onto a 3-2 lead instead of trying to build on it. They allowed the Canadiens to come at them shift after shift. They were outshot 18-9 in the period and allowed a game-tying goal with 17.2 seconds left.
[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Canadiens series coverage]
On Tuesday, the Rangers pushed in the third period. They pressured and outshot the Canadiens 10-6, forcing them to defend way more than they wanted to. The Rangers were tight with their gaps late in the game and forced Montreal into seven icings in the final 7:45. The Canadiens had no space to attack through the neutral zone so they tried for the home-run pass and it never connected.
"What we kept stressing was just making sure we're moving our feet coming out of our zone, keeping that good gap and taking what was given," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "If we had room to carry it in, carry it in. If not, make sure we put it behind them. For the majority of that third period it was good consistent play by us."
The Rangers lost 3-1 in Game 3 on Sunday because they couldn't push through Montreal's excellent structure. No doubt the Canadiens deserve credit for that and for playing a near flawless game, but the Rangers didn't do anything to make it hard on them, especially because they weren't moving their feet and they appeared to only feign a middle-drive attack. It never materialized.
Video: MTL@NYR, Gm4: Lundqvist stones Shaw's breakaway
They had 12 shots through 40 minutes and were outshot 29-21.
In Game 4, the Rangers were in attack mode from the start. They had their feet moving. They sped through the neutral zone to get quality offensive zone entries. They pushed the Canadiens back on their heels. They sustained puck possession. When they dumped the puck in they made sure on most occasions Montreal goalie Carey Price couldn't play it.
The Rangers had 22 shots through 40 minutes and 10 more in the third, outshooting the Canadiens 32-24. Jesper Fast scored at 11:39 of the first period. Rick Nash scored at 4:28 of the second period. That's all the Rangers needed, but they had chances for a lot more.
"You've got to find the strengths of your game and that speed game is our big strength," McDonagh said. "It's been there all year. It's the reason why we're in this position. It was a good job by us finding a way to be consistent there."
Henrik Lundqvist found a more concise way of putting it.
"It felt like we earned this one," Lundqvist said.
They did. They deserved it too.
All that is great and it means the series is locked at 2-2 going to Game 5 at Bell Centre on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG), but it also makes you wonder that if the Rangers are capable of doing what they did in Game 4 why were they such a different team in Game 3, and why did they play so out of character in the third period and overtime in Game 2?
"The guys were playing on their toes," McDonagh said. "They wanted to compete, wanted to battle and wanted the puck on their sticks. We proved to ourselves now that there's no reason we can't play like this every time. We have to in order to continue playing here."
Video: MTL@NYR, Gm4: Nash backhands go-ahead goal
They'll have to find new motivation, though.
The Rangers entered Game 4 with the feeling that everything was going against them and everyone thought they were cooked even though they were down one game and weren't facing elimination.
It felt like they were after the way they lost Game 2 and how poorly they played in Game 3, which was yet another dud for the home team, the Rangers sixth straight loss at Madison Square Garden in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a streak which started May 18, 2015.
No doubt they heard a lot about that.
"It was a bad couple of days around here," Nash said. "We let it all go and put it behind us, and I thought we had a pretty good performance tonight."
All it really did was guarantee they'll have at least one more home game this season, and it will be an elimination game Saturday. The Rangers will be the team in danger of being eliminated if they forget about what got them there.
"It's a matter of backing up this win," McDonagh said.