NEW YORK -- It's not too often that a geometric shape can change the outcome of a game, but it did on Thursday night for the New York Rangers.
Trailing 3-1 in the waning seconds of the second period and trying to defend against a Phoenix Coyotes power play, Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi cleared his zone. Forward Brandon Prust was ahead of the play, forcing goaltender Jason LaBarbera to leave his net to play the puck.
Unfortunately for LaBarbera, the puck trickled behind the goal line and outside the trapezoid. That meant he couldn't touch the puck; otherwise, he'd receive a two-minute penalty. Prust picked up the loose puck and beat a scrambling LaBarbera to cut the lead to 3-2 with 6 seconds left in the period.
The goal gave the Rangers life and helped them to a come-from-behind 4-3 shootout victory at Madison Square Garden.
"It was a big-time goal," said Rangers center Derek Stepan, who scored the tying goal with 5:43 remaining in the third period to force overtime. "It wasn't that we weren't playing hard but we didn't have any energy or pop. That goal gave us some energy."
"I wasn't sure what he was going to do on that play," Prust said. "I knew he was having trouble getting to it. I knew he was going to take a penalty or I was going to be on the puck."
Prust's goal was his fifth of the season and second while shorthanded. Since arriving from the Calgary Flames in a trade last season, he's turned into a tireless forechecker and reliable penalty killer. Prust has come a long way from playing 4 minutes a night and focusing mostly on fighting with the Flames.
"He is part of our core," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "He is not home-grown from our minor-league team but he has grown into us. He is a big part of who we are."
The Rangers found themselves down 2-0 just 5:53 into the game after goals by Taylor Pyatt and Adrian Aucoin. Rangers goalie Martin Biron, getting a rare start in place of Henrik Lundqvist, was the victim of a funky bounce off the glass on Pyatt's goal and was screened on Aucoin's long shot.
Fans at MSG started a chant of "Henrik! Henrik!" and offered mock cheers on Biron's next two saves.
Still, with a little encouragement from captain Chris Drury, the veteran goaltender settled down over the rest of the game and gave the Rangers a chance to win.
"After that second goal, Dru skated by and slapped me in the pad and said, 'Show them what you got,' " Biron said. "I felt pretty good the captain skated by me and gave me a vote of confidence. That helped me a lot to get back in the game."
The Rangers (20-13-1) have won 10 of 14 and rank fourth in the NHL with 41 points. But with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers occupying the top two spots in the Atlantic Division, the Rangers are the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Thursday's comeback against the Coyotes was just the latest example of how this Rangers team has the fight and resilience that last season's team that missed the playoffs sorely lacked. They are also now 9-0-0 in the second half of back-to-back contests.
"Torts said before the game, 'it is easy to get comfortable,'" said Erik Christensen, who scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Rangers the extra point. "We could easily come out slow against a Western Conference team that we don't see a lot. That is sort of what it looked like. We just stay patient, get some timely goals and stick to our game plan."
It was the complete opposite for the Coyotes, who lost for the second time in as many nights. After getting up 2-0 early, they took three straight penalties, including two by defenseman Sami Lepisto.
Girardi's power-play goal with Lepisto in the box for roughing made it a 2-1 game. Some tic-tac-toe passing between Ruslan Fedotenko and Marc Staal and freed up Girardi, who beat LaBarbera with a wrist shot from the right circle.
Things looked bleak for the Rangers midway through the second period when Martin Hanzal's eighth of the season made it 3-1. But LaBarbera's misplay that led to Prust's goal set the stage for a Rangers rally.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett didn't single out that play as the game-changer, instead pointing to the three straight penalties in the first period that let the Rangers back into it.
"I thought we came out and controlled a lot of the first period and had a good start to the game," Tippett said. "Then we took three penalties and it turned the tide of the game. We're finding ways to shoot ourselves in the foot right now. We have to clean some of that up."
Before the game, the Coyotes were forced to sign Tom Fenton, a former college goaltender who hadn't played organized hockey since 2009. Starter Ilya Bryzgalov came down with the flu Thursday afternoon, leaving the team without enough time to call up someone from its AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
Fenton, who lives in Purchase, N.Y., and works at Manhattanville College as the head of community relations, dressed as LaBarbera's backup and wore No. 35.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo