DALLAS -- If there had been any sliver of doubt as to what kind of first steps the Rangers would take on a daunting and critical road trip, what kind of answer they would have for Saturday's disappointment on home ice, it took Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox all of 19 seconds to serve up a persuasive answer.
In reality, though, there just wasn't that much doubt. "We were confident as a staff that we were going to come out and play the way we were capable of playing," David Quinn said on Tuesday night. "Whether that was going to be good enough to win against a really good team, you were going to find that out."
The answer lay in those opening 19 seconds, and in a dominant opening 40 minutes that built up a four-goal lead by second intermission; then in a bendable but unbreakable third that secured the Rangers a 4-2 victory over the Dallas Stars in the opener of this three-game trip -- one that skips right along to Game 2 in Denver on Wednesday night.
What was there to like after this one? "I liked our goaltending, I liked our defensemen, and I liked our forwards tonight," Quinn said. "Just had everybody going. It really was a true team effort."
Young and old, up and down the lineup -- it was all going for the Rangers on this night, including the usual, Mika Zibanejad. The Rangers' star center scored yet again, for the fifth consecutive game -- this one taking on extra-special meaning because it made him a 40-goal scorer for the first time in his career.
It came on a night when Kaapo Kakko led with the way with a pair of goals, reaching double-digits in his rookie season, and Fox chipped in with a goal and an assist and a plus-3 night that was an impressive bounceback performance in its own right. Eight different Rangers hit the scoresheet to help the Blueshirts grab hold of the game, a 4-0 lead through two periods in which the visitors seemed to win every race, every battle.
"The way we skated, the way we backchecked, we didn't give them any time out there," said Jesper Fast. "We did really good job today."
"And even at 4-nothing I thought we did a lot of good things," added Quinn. "Bishop made some good saves to keep it at 4-nothing. And our guy made some big saves, too."
"Our guy" was Igor Shesterkin, who bested the veteran Ben Bishop to win for the 10th time in his 12th National Hockey League start. He hauled a shutout into the final period of this one, ultimately finishing with 31 saves to improve to 4-0 in his NHL career on the road.
The Rangers as a team, meanwhile, are now 10-1 in their last 11 games off Broadway. And on Tuesday night they picked up ground on the Islanders, who lost a shootout in Vancouver, and the idle Blue Jackets, while keeping pace with the Hurricanes, winners in Detroit earlier in the evening.
"It was important for us to come out and play the right way. I think we did that this game," Fast said. "We knew they were coming hard in the third period but overall I think we did really good."
That third period was when Roope Hintz busted up Shesterkin's shutout bid early on -- snapping Dallas' scoreless streak at a nasty 175:49 -- and Andrew Cogliano scored late to make it a two-goal game, both off assists from Miro Heiskanen. But "I really liked how we handled the 6-on-5," Quinn said, and the Rangers comfortably sent the Stars to their sixth consecutive loss (0-4-2).
And they won once again behind a major contribution from Zibaneajad, who continued his torrid run -- 10 goals during his five-game goal streak -- in his remarkable season. Playing in his 56th game, he became the fastest Ranger ever to reach 40 goals in a season, nipping Jean Ratelle's 40 in 57 games in the 1971-72 campaign -- one true gentleman center edging out another.
"It's so much fun to watch a player grow, and he continues to grow, day in and day out," Quinn said of Zibanejad. "We're so fortunate to have Bread and him, not only being the players they are but the people they are. It's so important for your organization when you've got two superstars like that, that they're great people. And that's what they are."
About the only sour note for the Rangers on this night was seeing Filip Chytil forced to leave the game after the first period with a lower-body injury. Quinn said after the game that the Rangers would all but certainly be spending one of their two remaining call-ups ahead of Wednesday's match with the Avalanche.
Tuesday's match could not have started much better, much quicker for the Rangers, Panarin pulling up at the Dallas line on the first shift to find Fox out for a stroll in the middle. "I was a little surprised, I thought someone might jump me," Fox said. Instead, he walked in and beat Bishop (23 saves) on his stick side for his eighth goal.
In all, the Rangers got five points from players age 22 or younger on this night, between Kakko, Fox and Brett Howden, with honorable mention going to Ryan Lindgren for a physically punishing game that had no small role in the way it unfolded.
"Coming off the games that we were, it felt good to get one, play in front and not have to chase the game," Fox said of his goal. "It was definitely nice to get one early."
Zibanejad made it two at 10:12, after Brendan Lemieux, caught out on an extended shift, made the decision to join Zibanejad on a rush rather than peel off for the bench, and wound up setting him up from the goal line for No. 40.
Then came Kakko's pair in the second period, the first at 7:03, which he described this way: "First Quickie, great pass, and then Howden, great pass." Those two first had to win a battle for a 50-50 puck off an offensive-zone draw; only then could Fast slip a behind-the-back pass to Howden, who relayed it beautifully to Kakko in the slot with an open net to fire at.
Kakko's only task on that one was to put it on goal; on the second, 10 minutes later, Zibanejad fed him down at the goal line, and with Bishop down he had to alertly stickhandle around the 6-foot-7 goaltender.
"It's huge for him," Quinn said. "It's a heck of a play by Howden on the first one and a great play by Fox and Mika on the second one, but he was in the right place. I liked his game tonight, I thought he played a really good game."
"Everyone is stepping up," Fast said, as the Rangers packed up for their flight to Denver and their next road test. "And that's really good for us."