David Quinn looked directly at some media representatives who had followed his rangers all season, and the coach got to the point.
"You were watching – we look different, right?" He said. "We look different."
This happened immediately after Quinn's club defeated the islanders for the second time in a row, a 3-2 win at the Coliseum on Thursday that came through a last-minute power play goal from Chris Kreider. But it was more than just this goal that ensured victory. The blueshirts stubbornly played from corner to corner and adapted to the physical intensity of the islanders.
It gave the Rangers their fourth win in their last five games, and Quinn still goes back to the game's first break on January 2 in Calgary to find the moment when they deliberately tried to play a better defense – even if they lost this and the following game in Vancouver.
But the grind is exactly what Quinn expects from this team, and exactly what the Rangers need to do if they want to keep their post-season dream alive. There is another big point in the ranking when the blue jackets roll into the garden on Sunday. Columbus currently holds second place with the wildcard, six points ahead of the Rangers. And then the third episode of the mini-series with the islanders comes back to Broadway on Tuesday evening, with Barry Trots team needing some traction after 6-6-2 in the previous 14.
However, if the Rangers want to make a point in the front office before the close on February 24, then they are really more interested in continuing to play as they have in the past two weeks.
"I think we've done a lot of little things throughout the season that have given us the opportunity to win games and be there," said Kreider. "We had some things to do here that we definitely did better. There is still a long way to go and there is still a lot to improve."
At the start of the season, the way the islanders play could have easily frustrated the Rangers. Clogging up the neutral zone leaves little room to gain speed and be creative. The islanders force the opponents to just play and then try to outperform them – which is not easy.
But instead of getting upset and trying to force the offensive with all their dynamic abilities, the Rangers took what was there – they hit it, chased it down, and pulled their tails off.
"We obviously love to go faster and play through the neutral zone, but they made it unsafe," said Kreider. "We started to be successful when we were able to leave pucks behind and spend some time in their zone."
Quinn appeared to be most satisfied with the club's reaction after an initial phase when he thought they were "curious" about the atmosphere and allowed goalkeeper Alex Georgiev 22 shots, only one of which got through. But, according to Quinn, "after that time, we did what we did again – and you saw what happened."
Although the playoffs are the stated goal, a lot can still happen until the end of the regular season. The organization has to figure out how to approach the trade date, with an unsustainable situation with three goals and chalks as the most attractive rental on the market.
But for now, hope remains alive due to appearances like Thursday's – the kind of effort that has shaped these new-looking rangers, at least in the past few weeks.
You can find more information about the Rangers in the latest episode of the podcast "Up In The Blue Seats":