NEW YORK -- Try to imagine the crippling effects had the Rangers not closed out this nine-game homestand at Madison Square Garden on a high note.
Suffice it to say that the holidays would not have been very happy.
Instead, the Blueshirts followed up on a dominant performance against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night with another superior effort against the Maple Leafs, edging Toronto 2-1 in a shootout Monday night to end the lengthy home stretch with back-to-back wins and a 3-4-2 record.
Not even a potentially devastating call in the final moments of regulation -- an official review upheld Nazem Kadri’s game-tying goal with 1 minute, 24 seconds to play, though many on the ice believed the play should've been whistled dead -- could detour a buzzing Rangers squad that has played with determination and purpose in the days leading up to the NHL-mandated holiday break.
And it was 26-year-old backup netminder Cam Talbot in net again, turning away 25 of 26 shots to pick up his eighth win of the season and second straight victory.
“It ends on a high note for us,” Talbot said. “We really needed those two points and we needed the two points last night. We got the job done when we needed to going into the Christmas break.”
Talbot, awarded his second consecutive start over incumbent goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, improved to 8-2-0 on the season and was stellar Monday night. He handled himself with poise and composure and, once again, his teammates delivered a fine game in front of him.
“He’s been tremendous,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “The story is continuing with him. He’s just going there and doing his job, trying to see every puck, stop every puck and make good decisions.”
But it was an ensemble cast that led the way Monday night, as the Rangers dominated the Leafs, outshooting them 43-26, 22-5 in the second period alone -- a season high in shots on goal for the club in a single period.
J.T. Miller snapped a scoreless draw 7:04 into the third period and, after a scoreless overtime period, both Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan tallied in the shootout. On the other end, Talbot got the last laugh with Kadri, denying him to secure the win.
“It’s safe to say that we are leaving for the holidays on a much happier note,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
Vigneault praised the team’s play over the past two games and said he anticipated the upcoming break to be a “pleasant three days.”
But he wasn’t quite in the giving spirit just yet, as he declined to take the bait when asked about his goaltending plans once the NHL schedule resumes Friday.
Vigneault said he was looking forward to spending the holidays with his parents and two daughters for the first time in eight years, but he offered no details on whether he’d again give Talbot the nod over the struggling Lundqvist.
He’ll have that decision to mull, but it could be a lot worse. He could have been ruminating on a homestand that went from bad to worse.
Said Talbot: “Hopefully we can come out of the Christmas break and continue to play the way we were the past two games.”