NASHVILLE -- There was Filip Chytil with another tiebreaking goal, and there was Ryan Strome with another game-winner. There was Brett Howden winning one faceoff after another as his team protected a lead in the third period. There was Ryan Lindgren and Brendan Lemieux and Micheal Haley blocking shots, and there was Alexandar Georgiev wiping away the pucks that did manage make their way through.
"Listen, this was a team effort," David Quinn said. "We can talk about a lot of guys right now, but this truly was a team effort."
In the wake of Tuesday's impressive Garden win over Tampa Bay, the Head Coach of the Rangers had asked one central question of his team: "Can they follow it up?" On Saturday afternoon the Blueshirts gritted their teeth and answered him, emphatically and as a unit: Facing a Nashville Predators team that led the League in home-ice wins, and doing so without Mika Zibanejad in their lineup, the Blueshirts left Music City with a 2-1 victory that makes it three wins in their last four games.
"All-around a good team win today," Brady Skjei said.
Chytil scored for the second time in his two NHL games this season, while Strome's second-period tally held up as the difference while also establishing a new career high, the center's sixth straight game with a point. All of it was backed by Alexandar Georgiev, who made 32 saves in winning his second straight start, and holding his opponent to a single goal in each of them.
Nashville got its goal from Viktor Arvidsson to slice into the visitors' lead late in the second, but the Rangers never trailed in this game even though they couldn't convert numerous golden chances to stretch their advantage. And so their task became to see a one-goal lead home for the final 25:26 of the afternoon: Their penalty-killers came up biggest of all as the Blueshirts went shorthanded three separate times in the third period alone, and twice in the game's final 5:17.
In the end, the Rangers put the clamps on back-to-back wins, three of them in four games and points in four of their last five (3-1-1).
"I was curious as to what was going to happen today," Quinn said afterward, concluding that "I just thought it was a continuation of what we did against Tampa. I thought our pace was good, we had gaps all over the ice, had some great scoring chances to make it 3-1 and couldn't do it. Then our penalty kill was huge down the stretch.
"Just a gutsy effort."
The gutsy effort included the three late kills, 16 blocked shots from 11 different skaters, and a 14-3 record at the faceoff dots in the final 20 minutes. It was good enough for the Rangers to win the lowest-scoring game they have played this season, and to pick up their first one-goal win.
"We kind of have our identity a little bit now, in what we need to bring and in how we play," said Jacob Trouba, who led the Rangers with 22:41 on ice, including three full minutes shorthanded in the third period. "That's what we were still searching for early. We hadn't really played two games in a row where we played like this, and it's what we need, to be more and more consistent. Everybody has stepped up and played a little bit better, and that's what you've got to do when someone goes out."
That someone is Zibanejad, who remains day-to-day and missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury. The Rangers have won both games he has missed so far and have received a massive boost from Chytil's return to the fold, as well as from Strome and his line with Artemi Panarin and Jesper Fast.
Chytil's goal came early in this one, 16:05 in, when he raced down with Chris Kreider and executed a toe drag that let Dan Hamhuis (playing his 1,100th NHL game) slide himself out of the play, then wired one past the stick side of Jusse Saros.
"Fil has come back and played with a purpose and a pace, and I love his intentions," Quinn said. "He's always had the skill set, but it is a different element to his game that he's added since he went down to Hartford. He's been playing like a second-line center."
"When we're winning the atmosphere in the locker room is way better than when you lose," Chytil said. "I'm happy that I can help the team with scoring goals and everything I can do with my game."
Strome, meanwhile, has been playing like a top center in Zibanejad's absence. He and his linemate Panarin have tied Zibanejad for the team lead in scoring with 11 points through the first 11 games. Their line teamed up to double the Rangers' lead at 4:16 of the second, Fast finding Panarin drifting down the slot, and Panarin zipping a circle-to-circle pass that Strome simply had to poke on goal.
Fast's assist was his fifth point in the last seven games, while Panarin upped his own points streak to four.
Arvidsson got one back with 5:26 left in the second, the lone blemish on a day of outstanding Rangers penalty-killing, when Filip Forsberg fired a puck onto his blade for a high-slot redirection. Up until that point, Georgiev had stopped 41 consecutive shots from Tuesday's win into the second period of this one.
"After they scored I thought they got a little momentum," Trouba said, "but nobody here panicked. We went back to our game and played the hard-nosed game that we kind of have come to make our identity. We just got back to how we play, and that's what you need to do."
Starting the third period shorthanded, the Rangers didn't have a shot on goal until the 7:15 mark, yet still finished the frame putting 15 pucks on Saros, who had 28 saves in all and faced three Ranger breakaways in the game, stopping two (Kreider had him beat but hit the inside of the goalpost).
And with the one-goal game in the balance, the Rangers won 14 of the 17 faceoffs in the third, including a 7-1 period from Howden. In all, the Rangers faced 15 draws in their defensive zone on the afternoon and controlled 13 of them.
"We really did bear down," Quinn said. "Brett had some huge faceoff wins down the stretch there. I thought they were handing us our lunch there in the first 40 minutes, but we buckled down and did a much better job on those draws, which was huge in the last 2½ minutes."
And so after winning their first Western Conference road game of the season, the Blueshirts come right back home for four of their next five games at Madison Square Garden, beginning on Monday night against the Ottawa Senators. If Quinn had a question going into this one, he is certain to feel more confident now in his team's ability to follow one strong performance with another.
"There's some more clarity on what we're going to have to do to have success, and I think our guys understand that," the Head Coach said.
"And winning feels good," he added. "So these last two nights have been a lot of fun."