NEW YORK -- One stadium, two games, three teams, more than 100,000 fans in attendance. But there was one figure the New York Rangers were most concerned with after defeating the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders at Yankee Stadium in a two-game set making up part of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series: Four points.
The Rangers were coming off consecutive home losses to the Islanders and St. Louis Blues before the games in the Bronx, and they were determined to create separation in the standings against divisional rivals. In the end, they got four big points in a tight Metropolitan Division where a prolonged losing streak can potentially tip the balance.
"I think our group realized we need the points and these are tough opponents and tough division games," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "It's going to be tight the whole way in the East, especially in our division. I thought our group played it well."
To be sure, the Rangers took the time to soak in an once-in-a-lifetime stadium experience. Although they had 10 players who competed in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and others who had played outdoors with other teams, the days spent at Yankee Stadium were still special. The team's practice Saturday, which was followed by a skate with friends and family, was an especially enjoyable time that preceded two big wins. But players made it clear after defeating the Islanders 2-1 on Wednesday night that their time in the Bronx was more business than pleasure.
"We took it all in during that practice. Our guys had experience at the Winter Classic in Philly a few years ago, I think that helps," McDonagh said. "You take it in the day before but when it comes time for the game, you have to bear down and focus."
One day, whether it be at the end of their season or at the end of their careers, the Rangers will look back on their experience at Yankee Stadium and marvel at the spectacle. But in the wake of the two games, which included a 7-3 victory against the Devils on Sunday afternoon, it was the four points that meant the most to the team.
"That's the message that we got before the series. Yes, it's fun. Yes, it's a great atmosphere. But at the end of the day it's a hockey game that we need to win. We're coming out of here with four points and we just need to take our game here and make sure we stick with it," forward Derick Brassard said. "We enjoyed just to be outside and everything. But everyone here is very professional about what we do. As soon as the puck dropped, we were playing a game that we wanted to win. Sometimes you can lose focus. But we did an awesome job."
Until the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field on March 1 in another Stadium Series tilt, the Rangers will be the only NHL franchise to have played in three outdoor games. And with a 3-0-0 record in those three games, their memories of playing outdoors will remain with them long past their playing days.
In the meantime, there's a division playoff race to worry about.