In the early stages of this season, David Quinn and Mika Zibanejad talked about his production.
Zibanejad wanted to be scoring more goals. Quinn, however, never worried - not for a second. He was happy with the play of his top-line center, even if his stat line was slow to catch up with his performance.
Back then, Quinn made a prediction.
"We talked about how when goals come, they come in flurries," he said on Thursday night after a 4-3 win over New Jersey. "They're coming at a snowstorm rate right now."
Zibanejad's second career hat trick came on Thursday at the Prudential Center at the expense of the Devils. In just over 22 minutes of ice time, he opened the scoring for the Rangers, tallied the tying goal and then recorded the game-winner in a come-from-behind character win.
"He's a good player - really good," said goalie Henrik Lundqvist. "His skill level, the way he shoots the puck… Those guys on that line are feeling it and it's helping us big time."
In particular, Zibanejad's third goal was a beauty: Mats Zuccarello found him streaking through the slot, where he dangled and lifted the puck over Keith Kincaid's outstretched pad to go bar-down.
"Great pass, like always," Zibanejad said with a grin. "I feel like you've just got to get open with Zucc and he puts it right on your tape. Just tried to make a move and get it up, and it went in." Video: NYR@NJD: Zibanejad completes hatty with beauty
Zibanejad, of course, was reluctant to take credit for Thursday's success, instead heaping praise on linemates Zuccarello and Chris Kreider- and for good reason. When their line was on the ice, it was a different game.
"We're talking a lot and we're trying to use each other out there as much as possible - trying to use the things we're good at and try to implement that to our game," Zibanejad said. "It's just clicking for us right now."
Though two of Zibanejad's goals came on the power play, the top line combined for eight points and countless opportunities.
"They certainly were dominant tonight, and they have been for a while," Quinn said. "All three of those guys are playing at an extremely high level. It's just nice to see because they put a lot of work into it - all three of them. They work hard, and they've got a good thing going right now."
Lundqvist didn't mince words: He said that line won the Rangers the game.
"Everybody worked hard, but they definitely made the difference," he said. "When they're on top of their game, that's a line that's going to make a big difference a lot of nights."
Goals are nice. Critical goals are even better. On Thursday, all three of Zibanejad's fell into that category - especially the first, which came with just under two seconds remaining in the first period.
That, Quinn said, was the turning point of the game.
"Going into that second period down 2-0 instead of 2-1 - that's a huge difference," he said. "It's amazing what can happen when you get a goal with under two seconds to go in a period, how you can carry that momentum. I thought we did that."
Just as important as the goals, though, is the work Zibanejad has been putting in away from the puck. That's something he and Quinn talked about earlier in the season - doing the little things right, winning faceoffs, playing a solid two-way game. Those are the details that set the tone. When those little things are happening, the production will come.
Dating back to a 2-1 win over the Islanders on Jan. 12, Zibanejad has tallied 13 points in seven games. He has totaled a whopping eight goals, including four game-winners, and has registered a plus-seven rating.
Now, it's clear why there were no doubts that the deluge would eventually come.
"He's so strong on the puck," Lundqvist said. "I think he always looks good out there and I like the way he plays because he understands the importance of both sides of the ice and doing things right in our own end.
"It's huge when he brings so much to the table."