If the leaderboard doesn't matter before the close on February 24, there are at least nights like this to keep the Rangers' psyche going.
The blueshirts had a 4-2 win over the Red Wings in the garden on Friday night, beating the league's worst team in their first games after the nine-day break that included the all-star weekend and farewell weeks. It wasn't very pretty, but the Rangers definitely felt better than before the break.
"It was a good break, a bit of a mind reset and a rest," said Mika Zibanejad, who had a goal and two assists as his line with Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich did most of the hard training while he started Goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin almost had his first NHL defeat in his fourth game – and in the waning moments he almost scored a goal.
"Boys were excited to be back," said Zibanejad. "We know what's ahead and we're happy about it."
What's ahead of the Rangers (24-21-4) is a very tough struggle to get back into the playoff picture and most likely another deadline when key players leave their businesses and focus on the future. But those who have experienced this during this rebuilding phase in the past two years know that it can quickly get ugly if you get distracted.
It would have been easy to have a look at the terrible Red Wings (26th December – 4th April) in Detroit on Saturday night, who are the opponents again on the second half of this home game. Even with goalkeeper Jimmy Howard's preference to play well against the Rangers – and Syracuse-born looked like this player when he put all 15 Rangers shots aside in a first period of 0-0 – the blueshirts held their heads lowered and pressed on.
"It was one of those feelings from" Oh oh, will this be one of those nights when you do a lot of good things and the goalkeeper does his part? "Coach David said Quinn," You just have to keep going, get Pucks on the net, come in and manage the game. "
The lock gates opened when Buchnevich ended a large cross-ice feed from Zibanejad at 9:23 a.m., followed by a tip-in from Kreider at 11:56 a.m. and a highlight reel drag and flip on the left Artemi Panarin's side of superlatives – who, after missing the last game before the break (and the All-Star game) didn't seem to have any signs of wear with an upper body problem.
When Zibanejad scored a power play goal 5:02 from third to 4: 0, the Rangers relaxed a little and were reminded that even the worst team in the league can no longer have a place in front of them with no challenger in sight.
"Basically, we gave them your chances," said Zibanejad.
Shesterkin's offer for his first shutout ended when Robby hit Fabbri at 5:59 in the third goal from the front, and some shocks went through the building when Valtteri Filppula scored 4-2 at 10:59. The new defensive duo of Brady Skjei and Adam Fox fought for both goals and were nowhere to be seen at the time of the puck crossing the goal line.
But Quinn quickly disbanded them, and the Rangers managed to shut them down from there. Shesterkin shot two pucks on the empty net in the last minute and hardly missed either time. It was almost festive at the time, and the two losses that were taking a break – and the dark shadow of the trading deadline, which was less than a month away – had been almost completely forgotten.
"It is important to come back and feel good after such a break," said Zibanejad. "I thought we played well and did enough to win."
You can find more information about the Rangers in the latest episode of the podcast "Up In The Blue Seats":