By Sean Hartnett
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While some of their faces have changed in recent years, the fighting spirit and resiliency the Rangers have shown in the past have returned.
Sunday’s 1-0 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings seemed to be ripped straight out of Alain Vigneault’s 2014 playoff playbook.
There aren’t any extra points awarded for style. While the Red Wings dominated possession for long spells and executed their brand of eye-catching hockey, the Rangers excelled at the basics and grinded out a victory reminiscent of gutsy postseason battles of recent vintage.
The Rangers played a very safe game in the neutral zone and in their own end. They won the one-on-one battles and handled the puck responsibly against a Red Wings team that defends with speed and aggressiveness against the puck carrier. And of course, Henrik Lundqvist was at his laser-sharp best, outdueling Jimmy Howard on his way to 22 saves.
“At the end of the day, this is about finding ways to win games, stay focused — and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Vigneault said. “It’s all about getting the two points. There’s a lot of things going on. It’s not easy for both sides. You just do what you’ve got to do.”
The Rangers kept their cool in a game littered with questionable calls against them. While other teams might have crumbled under that kind of frustration, the Blueshirts went 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, allowing just one shot on goal.
“That’s what it takes to win, especially down the end stretch here — it’s about finding ways to win,” defenseman Keith Yandle told WFAN.com. “Our PK was awesome, obviously Hank was amazing. We had a goal called back, which was a tough momentum swing, but it’s one of those things where we stuck with it, 60 or 65 minutes, it doesn’t matter. We find ways to win. We did that tonight. It’s a huge two points.
“It was a huge test,” Yandle continued. “We hadn’t seen (the Red Wings) this year, but we knew what they can do offensively. We know their ‘D’ help out a lot offensively and their guys can make plays. We did a good job as a unit on the ice. The forwards did a good job of helping us out. It’s a big win.”
The penalty kill finding a way to rebound was a huge step forward, especially after the Rangers’ floundered man down for an extended stretch. The Rangers are now 9-for-9 in shorthanded situations over their past two games. It has all come down to being on the same page and recognizing when to attack as a four-man/three-man unit.
“We’ve got our trigger points, when one guy goes we can see and read off it,” overtime hero Kevin Klein said of the PK. “The bobbling pucks, we are getting those and putting sticks on them. You look at what the forwards do up front when they’re blocking those one-timers for us — it’s the key to our success.”
Believe or not, the Rangers are on pace to finish the season with 103 points. They are right where they want to be as the final stretch of 23 games kicks off with a visit to the rival Devils on Tuesday.
“We’ve found a way to win games in the last couple of weeks,” forward J.T. Miller told WFAN.com. “We’ve got to make sure we build off this. We played a good defensive game. We expect all five guys on the ice to be able to play both ends of the rink. Our ‘D’ did a great job of playing quick tonight. They got the pucks up fast, (allowing) the forwards to come back and get going. Everybody understands the need to stay focused in weird games like this. We found a way to get through it and get that big two points.”
The Rangers look like they have something cooking as the playoffs approach. They look like they’re back to playing their brand of hockey.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey