This time there were no what-ifs, no parsing the minutes or searching for the moment where the Rangers' fortunes turned. This time a good start only got better.
"We took what we did for 11 minutes to start a game the other night," Chris Kreider said, "and we were able to do it a little longer."
A lot longer, in fact, and over 60 minutes they were able to emphatically squash whatever frustrations may have been hanging around. Locked in a scoreless game in the second period, the Rangers pulled away with a three-goal burst in a span of 4:24, two of them on power plays, then locked the door on a thorough 5-1 victory over the sputtering Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers received goals from five different scorers, and points from 11 different players. Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo each scored on second-period power plays - DeAngelo off a great read and finish, Strome out of pure survival instinct - and those two plus Artemi Panarin had a goal and an assist, while Pavel Buchnevich had helpers on each of the Rangers' first two goals.
Kreider scored for the third time in six games, and Greg McKegg, returning to the lineup after three games out, scored his first goal as a Ranger, a shorthanded strike near the midpoint of the third period that more or less put matters to bed and sent Detroit to its 12th loss in its last 13 games.
And when the Red Wings did turn on the desperation in the late stages, including pulling their goaltender with more than five minutes left in a three-goal game, Henrik Lundqvist was impenetrable, turning away all 16 shots he saw in the third period and 35 for the game, Lundqvist's 452nd career victory and yet another gem against the Red Wings to his ledger.
Afterward, Lundqvist was clear on how important he thought this victory was, in particular the way the Rangers achieved it.
"I think that was the most structured game I've had in front of me so far this year, and
it felt good to play," Lundqvist said, adding: "We had to have a performance like this after what happened last game. We need to learn from our ups and downs, and I think we did."
In truth, it has been more up than down recently: Four wins in the Rangers' last six games, and points in five of seven (4-2-1). When they have suffered a frustrating loss during that stretch they answered back each time with authority; it has been nearly three weeks since they lost back-to-back games in regulation.
"For us there's only one level to play in order to win games consistently: We have to keep it simple," said Lundqvist, whose NHL-record save percentage against Detroit actually went up, to .938. "Doesn't matter who we play, a top team or a team that has struggled at the bottom of the standings. There's one way of playing this game, especially for us. Today I thought we did that - played our style, a simple game, let the skill take over when there's an opportunity, but don't force it."
They followed the recipe against a Red Wings team that lost for the fourth straight time, and fell to 1-11-1 in its last 13, during which time they have been outscored 57-21. Detroit has scored twice in its last three games: Valtteri Filppula, playing his 500th game as a Wing, scored their lone goal in the second period of this one on a 2-on-none setup from Andreas Athanasiou.
With the game scoreless following a rather uneventful first period, the Rangers killed off an early penalty in the second, then immediately cashed in a pair of their own power plays. First DeAngelo continued his habit of picking the perfect time to sneak in from the weak-side point, this time to deposit a Brendan Lemieux rebound. Then, after Kreider had finished a Buchnevich feed from his off wing at even strength, Strome did all he could to duck and cover when Adam Fox hopped on a rolling puck and shot a little wild; it caught Strome in the shoulder beside the net, then took a friendly carom in behind Jimmy Howard (26 saves).
It was not the prettiest of Strome's goals, but all the same it was his fifth in the last six games. Panarin has points in each of those six games, a team-leading 14 in all, while Fox, who moved onto the No. 1 power-play unit for this game, quietly has points in four of those six. The rookie blueliner led the Rangers on Wednesday night with 19:56 on ice.
Filppula, though, sliced into the lead only 52 seconds after Strome had made it 3-0; this time, the Rangers responded the way they had in Nashville on Saturday, when the Predators got on the board in the second period to halve the Rangers' lead.
"We thought we were playing well at the time, and they had made a nice play, got one right back," DeAngelo said. "But we're still up two goals. There's no reason to panic."
McKegg provided even more comfort, stopping on a puck in the Detroit slot to take full advantage of a Howard/Tyler Bertuzzi misplay and score his second career shorthanded goal, with 11:16 left in the game. Panarin finished the scoring into an empty net with 2:37 to play.
In winning four of their last six games, the Rangers have allowed a total of five goals in the four wins. They will complete this back-to-back set with a Metropolitan Division clash in Carolina on Thursday night, before which David Quinn will have to decide whether to go back to Lundqvist once again, or split the games and give Alexandar Georgiev the nod - a good problem to have.
"We probably take it for granted, the luxury of very, very elite goaltending game in and game out, and year in and year out," Kreider said after Lundqvist's 35-save effort. "It's a pleasure playing in front of him. And it makes our job a whole lot easier knowing that we have him."