Players and coaches often state the need for others to step up when a team is dealing with injuries, and the Rangers received big performances throughout the lineup Tuesday night in a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Playing without Mika Zibanejad (concussion) and Henrik Lundqvist (flu), New York relied on its depth and it delivered in a big way.
Boo Nieves scored his first NHL goal as part of a three-point night from the team's fourth line while Ondrej Pavelec made 41 saves to earn his second win of the season.
"There's no doubt that tonight's a big win," coach Alain Vigneault said. "It's the Stanley Cup champions."
While the Rangers have been on the wrong side of luck in terms of a string of recent injuries to key components of its lineup, it did receive some good fortune midway through the third period.
With the teams tied, 3-3, Pavel Buchnevich's cross-ice feed to Brendan Smith redirected off
Kris Letang's skate and through goaltender Tristan Jarry at 11:12, which held up as the game-winner.
The teams traded goals starting with Conor Sheary's tally at 15:13 of the first that Nieves answered 1:36 later with his first of the year. Mats Zuccarello fed Nieves, who was coming on for a change, with a pass at the top of the circle. Nieves fired a wrist shot that beat Jarry through the legs.
Phil Kessel regained the lead for the Penguins 7:11 into the second period, but the Rangers responded with a pair of goals before the period ended, beginning with Jesper Fast burying a rebound off a Brady Skjei scoring chance for his fifth goal of the year at 12:26.
Zuccarello put the Rangers ahead for the first time with his fifth goal with 2:40 left in the middle frame. Zuccarello broke in and beat Jarry with a low wrist shot that the goalie slowed down but ultimately could not stop.
Patric Hornqvist again evened things just 3:35 into the third on a power play goal before Buchnevich's 10th of the year put the Rangers ahead for good.
Pavelec made the spot start in place of Lundqvist, who Vigneault said felt ill after the team arrived in Pittsburgh on Monday. It was Pavelec's first start since Oct. 28 in Montreal, and he made the most of it, especially in the second period when his team was outshot 23-8, yet took a 3-2 lead into the dressing room.
"I think we played great in the first period," said Pavelec. "I think we slowed down a little bit in the second and it was a battle in the third. It was a good hockey game, I think. Not so much fun for the goalies, but we got the win and that's huge for us."
Pavelec, who had appeared in just six of the Rangers' first 26 games of the year, said a performance and result like tonight was a boost for his confidence.
"It's only one game, first of all, but it's another game for me and I'm happy for the win because I didn't have much starts in the last few weeks," he said. "Every time I get the chance to play, I want to win the game … Of course it's great for my confidence that I'm able to win the game."
In addition to goals from Nieves and Fast, Paul Carey chipped in with an assist to give him points in two straight games. The effectiveness of the fourth line wasn't only in the offensive zone, as Vigneault used that trio down the stretch with the team ahead by one in the third.
"They were playing well, and they were playing better than some of the other guys," Vigneault said. "When you get down to the last seven or eight minutes, I shortened up the bench a little bit and went down to nine forwards and they were in it because that line had been real effective at both ends of the rink."
New York is now 2-0 in its current four-game stretch of games against Metropolitan Division foes, which continues Friday night in Washington against the Capitals.
"Take the two points and move on," Vigneault said.