Prust halts drought with game-winner

Brandon Prust couldn’t remember exactly how many games had passed since he scored his last goal, but he said the drought seemed interminable.

“It felt like 100,” he joked.

The gritty winger tallied his first goal in 49 games, dating back to October 20, for what was ultimately the game-winner in the Rangers’ 3-2 win over the Capitals at Madison Square Garden Thursday. The team's third straight victory has them leading the league with 77 points heading into tonight's match between Detroit and Philadelphia.

Prust snapped the 48-game skid on an odd-man rush with five seconds remaining on a third-period Capitals’ power-play, recording his third goal of the season, second short-handed.

A small reward for some large sacrifices throughout the season, but well-deserved.

“He’s an easy guy to pull for,” said coach John Tortorella, who thought Prust was robbed of the team’s sartorial MVP trophy (defenseman Ryan McDonagh was a first-time recipient of the Broadway Hat Sunday). “Pruster should’ve gotten the hat.”

The personification of the black-and-blue Rangers, whose hard-nosed, blue-collar identity has allowed them to tighten their grasp on first place in the Eastern Conference standings, Prust often handles the toughest, most-unglamorous duties of the 36-13-5 squad.

The 27-year-old grinder is a vital cog on the team’s 5th-ranked penalty kill and leads the team with 14 fighting majors.

“He does the tough stuff, plays physical,” said linemate Brandon Dubinsky. “Sometimes, he doesn’t get enough credit because he doesn’t find himself on the scoresheet or the highlight clip, but we know wheat we have with him in here. He’s been a stud for us and he’ll continue to be important as we go down the stretch against other team’s top guys.”

Prust proved that he possessed more than just toughness last season, when he delivered career highs of 13 goals and 16 assists. He finished third in the league with five shorthanded goals while proving to be an invaluable asset for the feisty Rangers.

He hasn’t matched that level of production this season -- Prust is set to become an unrestricted free agent in July – but he has sustained the same unrelenting willingness and commitment to do the dirty work that made him such an underrated acquisition from Calgary in 2010.

After almost four months without a goal, Prust was finally rewarded.

“It’s huge. He does everything for our team. He’s really, really valuable for our team. I thought it was a huge, huge goal for us on the penalty kill,” center Brian Boyle said. “We were all excited to see him get one.”

Prust’s deciding goal helped the Rangers rattle off their third straight win, including back-to-back victories over the weekend. Saturday, it was the Rangers’ elite players – Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik – that helped boost the team to a 5-2 win over Philadelphia. But Sunday, it was the lunch-pail players, especially Prust, that came through against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.

“We had our top players do some really good thing yesterday and we get some other guys to step up and do some things today,” Tortorella said. “I think everyone is just joining in and trying to play the best they can play.”