NEW YORK -- After the Rangers' 2-0 shutout victory against the Sabres, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault spoke glowingly about his goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who turned away all 29 shots faced to record his 47th career shutout and second of the season.
"That's why we pay him the big dollars," Vigneault said, in reference to Lunqvist's superb third period.
Well, those dollars are about to get much bigger if Lundqvist continues to play the way he did Thursday. The 31-year-old netminder, currently in the final year of a six-year deal that pays him $6.875 annually, was stellar in leading the Rangers to their first back-to-back wins of the season.
The former Vezina Trophy winner, who returned Monday after sitting out two games because of an unspecified injury, played like the Lundqvist who has been the team's shining star and indisputable MVP in recent years.
Pushing aside a shaky start to the season, Lundqvist was pristine in proving himself Thursday. He was aggressive in sealing the left post to deny Brian Flynn's repeated attempts to jam the puck through in the second period, he fought through screens, and smothered rebounds, and flashed the glove to stifle any hopes for a Sabres comeback.
The crowd at Madison Square Garden, treated on Halloween to the team's first win at home this season, was chanting his name throughout the game in recognition of his superior effort.
"There are only so many superlatives to describe him," Chris Kreider said. "He played like Hank. He deserved that ovation."
The Rangers deserved a round of applause for their play, too. Granted, it was the hapless Sabres, but the Blueshirts blitzed them properly. By the end of the second period, the Rangers had more than doubled them up on shots 38-18.
Sabres netminder Ryan Miller was actually very good, but there was only so much he could do after being under siege for the majority of the game.
"We did so many good things," Lundqvist said. "I thought we were all over them pretty much the whole game. The last five or six minutes, they came a little harder, but we deserve this one for sure. ... It feels good to win."
Despite a putrid 3-6-0 start to the season, the Rangers seem to be on the cusp of an about-face. The return of speedy winger Carl Hagelin, who missed the first 10 games because of a shoulder injury, has proven vital. The palpable change in confidence from Kreider has been a factor as well.
Kreider, who began the season in the minors, has been impressive since being recalled. The former Boston College standout has two goals in as many games. He banked a rebound off of a diving Miller to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead in the second period Thursday.
"I think that's a play I've tried a lot," Kreider said. "I don't know if it's ever worked for me [before]."
Like that play, pucks are now starting to bounce the Rangers' way. With that, the swagger of previous seasons is slowly starting to resurface.
There's still some significant work to do -- Thursday's win still leaves the Rangers two games shy of .500 at 5-7-0 -- but it appears things are starting to turn.
"Guys are confident right now," Hagelin said, "and that's why it looks much better on the ice."