Whether it had to do the chip they carried on their shoulders from their previous game, or seeing an opponent for the second time in a week, or simply wanting very badly to enjoy Christmas - whether it was a combination of all three, the Rangers hit the ice on Sunday like a team, in Brett Howden's words, "with something to prove."
Once Filip Chytil hit the gas and got the Rangers off and running early, he and his teammates spent the rest of their Sunday afternoon holding their foot down on the pedal, and on the Anaheim Ducks.
The Rangers' final home game before the Christmas break was an impressive effort from start to finish, a 5-1 victory over Anaheim in the last of a three-game Garden homestand, and the second-to-last before the holiday timeout. The last comes Monday night in Philadelphia, when they face the Flyers for the first time this season.
They'll be bringing a bit of momentum down the Turnpike with them.
"I think we just had a feistiness to us. We had a will. We really wanted it and I think it really showed," said Howden. "We were attacking all game and we weren't holding off. We were going at them right from the start, right 'til the end."
Chytil, Howden and Chris Kreider each scored during a dominant first period from the Rangers, in which they poured 18 shots on Ryan Miller, a season-high for a period, and grabbed a command of the game they would never let go of. Kreider's tally was his first of two during the course of another forceful outing, while Mika Zibanejad finished the scoring with a shorthanded goal - the Rangers' League-leading seventh of the season -- as he and Artemi Panarin each stretched their point streaks by another game, Zibanejad to five and Panarin to seven.
"It certainly was a great start for us," said David Quinn, "and I loved how we managed the game from there."
Henrik Lundqvist saw light work but was sturdy whenever tested, stopping 19 shots on the afternoon, only a batted puck out of mid-air getting past him early in the day. It was Lundqvist's second start against the Ducks in an eight-day span on both coasts, and he stopped 58 of 62 shots (.935) as the Rangers claimed three out of four points in the season series.
Sam Steel was the one to bat home the goal for the Ducks, who were playing their last game before Christmas, as well as the last game of a four-game road trip of constant attrition. By the time the Ducks reached Madison Square Garden they were without Ryan Getzlaf (flu), Jakob Silfverberg (also the flu), and Rickard Rakell (upper body), among several others who were lost to injury during the trip.
"Obviously they're depleted," Quinn said, "and they played hard. It was just one of those nights where we seemed to have a lot of energy, and we were a little bit ticked off about what happened against Toronto (on Friday). We came with a purpose right from the get-go."
"Knowing what we were facing, they're a team with a few top guys out," said Lundqvist. "We needed to get a good start, get a good first period where we get the speed going and put them in a tough spot."
Enter Chytil, whose speed sliced up the Ducks on the opening goal 7:14 into the game. He took a handoff from Brendan Lemieux in stride at the Ranger line, burst through the middle of the ice and waltzed around Adam Henrique, getting his backhander upstairs for his ninth goal this season - third-most among NHL players age 20 or younger.
"You see that? That's a highlight-reel goal. It was unreal," Howden said. "Just the speed he uses, attacking defensemen and making them kind of fall side-to-side, then going around them. That was a highlight-reel goal."
Howden tacked one on just 91 seconds later, hopping off the bench and going straight to the right spot, right where Miller kicked out Tony DeAngelo's shot, leaving Howden with a wide-open net. After Steel got one back at 9:58, it was Kreider's turn to attack with his own speed and skill, jumping all over Josh Manson's mishandle at the Ranger line during a 4-on-4, then shedding Manson to move in alone on Miller and beat him on the backhand.
That goal gave Kreider points in six of the Rangers' last seven games; his second, a second-period tuck-in of Zibanejad's setup, put him into double digits in goals for the seventh consecutive season.
"He's elevated his game for sure," Quinn said of Kreider, adding about his partnership with Zibanejad and Jesper Fast: "I really like that line, I think that line's been very effective. They were by far our best line against Toronto, and I just thought they continued doing the things they were doing in that game, today."
Zibanejad's goal to finish the scoring, 1:16 into the third period, was the seventh shorthanded goal this season by a penalty kill that was 4-for-4 on Sunday and has been perfect in seven out of the last nine games. It also, Zibanejad admitted, involved a bit of puck luck, with Jacob Trouba cutting all by himself down the middle. "I saw an opportunity to try to pass it to Troubs," Zibanejad said, "but I missed his stick and it went five-hole somehow. So, lucky one, but they are all nice to get."
He would know: He has points in five straight games, and multiple points now in four of those. His third shorthanded goal of the year moved the Rangers even with Ottawa and Carolina for the NHL lead.
The only important measure at the end of the day, though, is in the standings, and that's where the Rangers - closing in on the halfway point of the season - currently are looking up at Monday's opponent, holding games in hand on all but three teams in the Eastern Conference.
"That's a huge two points for us," Kreider said of Sunday's victory. "But we've got to turn the page quick because we've got a four-point game (Monday)."
"The whole game I thought we played well. I thought we did the little things we've been talking about," Zibanejad said. "Just in general a good win, and we will try get one more (Monday) before Christmas and enjoy those three days off."