In the midst of a stirring comeback in front of a raucous crowd, it took the goal of the season to get the Rangers their biggest win yet.
Neal Pionk went for a 190-foot skate to score the go-ahead goal against Carey Price with 2:44 to play, and the Rangers, down by a pair late in the second period, came storming back to defeat the Montreal Canadiens, 5-3, on Tuesday night at a rollicking Madison Square Garden.
Video: MTL@NYR: Pionk goes coast to coast for beautiful goal
The Blueshirts won their fourth consecutive game, equaling the longest active winning streak in the National Hockey League, and at 7-7-1 have climbed back to the .500 mark following an 0-3 start.
"We're building something here," Kevin Hayes said. "We had a rough start and we're getting wins."
They had a rough start Tuesday night, too, falling behind just 23 seconds into the game, then down by 3-1 with less than three minutes to play in the second period. But Tony DeAngelo, Pavel Buchnevich, Pionk and Mika Zibanejad (shorthanded) each scored in the game's final 22:15, as the Rangers won for the second time this season when trailing after two periods. Montreal, fresh off a victory in Brooklyn on Monday night, had been 5-0-0 with the lead after 40 minutes.
But the play of the game - of the season so far - belonged to Pionk. With the teams skating four-a-side, the 23-year-old, second-year defenseman picked up a puck behind the Ranger net, put a spin move on Jonathan Drouin at the circle, threw it into high gear down the left wing and sprinted around Noah Juulsen, then finally cut to the front to stuff the puck past Price.
It was Pionk's third NHL goal - and second in as many games - but in his life he couldn't remember one quite like it.
"Not that I can think of off the top of my head," Pionk said. "That was a good one."
"That's a highlight-reel goal right there," Hayes said. "He went end-to-end and scored on one of the best goalies in the game. That's one he'll remember for a bit."
Almost lost in the elation of the comeback was the excitement of Lias Andersson's season debut - the Rangers' No. 7 overall draft choice from 2017 was called up on Monday evening for his first NHL game of 2018-19, skating 12:17 while centering Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast. Andersson said he was "a little nervous before the game" but that David Quinn told him, "Just to do what I did in camp and keep playing my game."
"Lias had a good night," Quinn said. "And I'm not surprised."
Pionk, meanwhile, said he saw his winner as a measure of redemption, since he blamed himself for the game's opening score. Off a faceoff in the Montreal end, Jordie Benn rimmed one around, and when Pionk couldn't hold it in at the right point it sprung Tomas Tatar on a 2-on-1, which he finished himself after just 23 seconds had been played.
"That first goal is completely my fault," Pionk said. "I was just glad I could make up for it."
But after Chris Kreider's team-leading seventh goal, at 15:50, tied the score after the first, the game reached its most dire point for the Rangers in the second. By the 6:27 mark, Tatar had scored his second of the night and Max Domi had extended his goals streak to four games and the Montreal lead to 3-1 - and that's when the penalties started pouring in.
Video: MTL@NYR: Kreider buries Hayes' pass into open net
There were 24 minutes of minor penalties, and 34 minutes in all, handed down in the second period alone, including a raft to Cody McLeod that had the Rangers, down by two on the scoreboard, also down two men for a 43-second span.
"If they score the fourth, I think it's over," said Henrik Lundqvist, who after seeing 40 shots on Sunday night faced 17 in the first period Tuesday, and made 31 saves in the game.
Instead, the Rangers got through it, which Pionk said "lit a fire under us." Just as the final penalty of the period expired, DeAngelo shot one from the blue line off the crossbar and in, making it a one-goal game 2:15 before second intermission.
Buchnevich got the equalizer at 8:25, his fourth goal of the season.
Video: MTL@NYR: Buchnevich buries rebound to knot the score
"We weren't great in the first two periods, it was pretty soft," Hayes said. "Then I thought we dominated it there in the third. We tie it up, it goes 4-on-4, and Pionk makes an unreal play."
To hear Pionk tell it, it almost sounds as if he scored because, well, what other choice did he have?
"I was behind the net looking to pass," he said. "Tried to look to the right, looked to the left a little bit, looked to the right again, then came out to the left, then honestly looked to the right for Mika swinging that way. I didn't see anything, so I went up the ice.
"Cut to the middle, cut to the outside. I really didn't think I had a step on him, but once I felt that I did, I cut to the net and put it in."
Lundqvist had a unique vantage point, watching Pionk's spin move beside his net, then watching the blueliner take it the length of the ice.
"First when he made that spin-o-rama, I said, 'No,'" Lundqvist said with a widening smile. "And then he just kept on going."
That's what the Rangers have done for eight days on two coasts now: just kept going. They will take a day off on Wednesday - "because I need it more than anybody," Quinn said - before practicing Thursday for a road back-to-back in Detroit and Columbus beginning on Friday. The Rangers return to the Garden next Monday night to host the Pacific Division co-leading Vancouver Canucks.
"I love how we responded coming back from the (West Coast) trip and we win two hockey games here," Quinn said. "It says a lot."
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