MONTREAL -- To get a clear picture of the ringer the Rangers have been through this week, of every high and every low and of the unforgettable game that capped it off, just take one look at Brendan Lemieux, who is wearing his team's battle scars. Look at the black eye he picked up in a victory on Wednesday. Look at the tooth that was chipped in half in a loss on Friday night. Look at the smile he was wearing on Saturday night, the Broadway Hat he had on his head, the teammates all around him celebrating one of the greatest comeback victories in Rangers history.
Down by four goals in the second period in one of the most raucous arenas in the NHL, Lemieux and the rest of the Rangers never stopped or eased up even a little bit, and by the time the third period was half over they had climbed all the way back to take a lead. All they had to do then was hold on in the final, frenetic minutes to complete an astounding 6-5 victory over the Montreal Canadiens that made that visitors' dressing room an island of noise amid the stunned silence of the Bell Centre.
It was only the fourth time in the Rangers' 93-season history that they had come back to win a game in which they had trailed by four goals, and the first time in 28 years -- since Dec. 26, 1991, when they climbed out of a five-goal hole to beat the Washington Capitals.
More than one player admitted that for whatever reason, it felt just that much better pulling this off on a Saturday night in Montreal, and that applied particularly to Lemieux, whose dad Claude was in the crowd to watch his former team build up a commanding lead on home ice, then watch his son's team dismantle it brick by brick.
Lemieux scored two of the goals in the comeback, including the game-tying strike on a shorthanded rush with 11:20 to play, which set the stage for Jacob Trouba's wrister through traffic that gave the Rangers their first lead of the night and the only one they would need.
"We just never stopped. We just never stopped," David Quinn said afterward. "I couldn't be prouder of these guys. We competed from the drop of the puck right to the horn blowing at the end."
Even Montreal coach Claude Julien understood this, all too well. "They came to play. They came to play," Julien, whose team lost its fourth straight, said of the Rangers. "Even when it was 3-nothing, they just kept coming."
Even when it was 4-0, which it was just 2:51 into the second period. It wasn't until 6:51 into the middle frame that Filip Chytil put the Rangers on the board; Chytil's seventh of the season was followed by goals from Pavel Buchnevich (56 seconds later), Lemieux, Artemi Panarin, Lemieux again, and Trouba, all while Alexandar Georgiev shook off a rocky start to finish with 38 saves and never let this improbable comeback get too far out of reach.
And even the Rangers - who to a man understood that a 4-0 score was not a fair reflection of their play -- weren't sure exactly which of their goals convinced them that they had a real chance to come back and win. "I don't think that there was a specific moment that we knew it was real," Lemieux said. "I think we just never thought it wasn't."
In the end, it added up to the Rangers' second win in three games, and provided a resounding, albeit incredible, answer to a flat game in Ottawa the evening before that had left them an angry group.
"I'll tell you what, it was impressive tonight," Chris Kreider said. "Some of the other games, I think there's been kind of a dejected feeling. But tonight, there was a positive vibe -- a resilient, determined vibe. Guys were committed to doing the right things and working for each other, and I mean, that is fun. That is winning hockey."
The Rangers have a list of impressive players in this game, but Kreider's name is right up there at the top. Kreider was wearing his frustration following Friday's loss, and it was clear it hadn't worn off from his first shift of the game, when he sent Tomas Tatar spinning with a shoulder-to-shoulder hit in open ice that punctuated a sharp opening from the Rangers.
But that opening shift set the tone for the disconnect between the game and the score that was to play out over the next 25 minutes, because as soon as the Rangers didn't pot one after 100 seconds of attack-zone time, the Canadiens took it to the other end and scored on their first sniff, Max Domi batting in a bouncer at 2:04 for his first of two on the night.
Arturi Lehkonen and Shea Weber scored around Domi's second goal, and by the time Weber's slap shot had squeaked through Georgiev to make it a four-goal game 2:51 after first intermission, Quinn was getting Henrik Lundqvist warmed up to take over. The Coach held off, though, in part, he said, to avoid the spectacle of a goalie change where the backup is not on the bench, and throwing that kind of meat to a rabid crowd.
"Give our goalie a lot of credit," Quinn said. "He had a tough beginning, but boy did he battle back and stand tall when we needed him."
"It was a grind," Georgiev said. "I just tried to say, 'Okay, hang in there. Make the next save. The game is 60 minutes.' And the guys, nobody gave up, and then we got the first goal.
"Then the second. We started getting confidence and we kept rolling at it."
Chytil, Buchnevich and Lemieux each scored in a span of 3:20 in the middle period, which meant that all of a sudden, with still more than half the game to go, that commanding lead was down to just one. Lehkonen appeared to give the Canadiens and their fans some breathing room again when he scored 5:20 into the third to make it 5-3, but Kreider, Panarin and Ryan Strome combined for perhaps the most important play of the night, answering Lehkonen's goal after just 31 seconds when Kreider sent a no-look pass across the slot for Panarin's 12th of the year and a 5-4 game.
Afterward, Quinn said of Kreider: "He was outstanding. He was dialed in on the ice and he was dialed in off the ice. He means so much to our team and I'm really happy for him, because he gave everything he had on and off the ice. He was pivotal on the bench. Just a great effort by Chris."
Less than three minutes after Panarin's tally, Lemieux and Howden came down shorthanded on a 2-on-1, with Howden laying a perfect cross for Lemieux to tap in behind Carey Price - the first shorthanded goal of Lemieux's career, and his third multi-goal game in the NHL. "A hell of a pass from Howds," Lemieux said. "I've got great linemates. Just a great play."
With the clock winding under eight minutes in what was now a tie game, Quinn went right back to Panarin, Kreider and Strome once a Canadiens icing allowed those three to get an offensive-zone draw without, for once, Weber and Ben Chiarot on the ice. Strome won the faceoff back to Trouba, and with Kreider drawing traffic in front, his wrister got through Price with 7:50 to play. Georgiev, and his teammates who blocked 27 shots on the night, saw it home from there.
Quinn has been a part of some unforgettable comebacks in his hockey life before, but asked in the wake of this one where it might rank for him, the Head Coach said: "It's up there, and for a variety of reasons.
"I like coaching this team so much," he said, "and to see how excited they were after we won, and the way that we won, and what they put into it on and off the ice, it's just a great feeling to watch them enjoy the moment. Because when you come into this building and you're down 4-nothing and you accomplish what we just accomplished, they should feel really good about it. And I'm really happy for them."