For starters, the decisive win was their third straight victory, a feat they have accomplished only three times this season. They built an early lead with an energetic, inspired start. They got some snarl and some scoring from their newest acquisition, Daniel Carcillo. They got some even-strength production from Derick Brassard. And they continue to yield results on the power play.
Paramount to all, however, was the strong, steady effort of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 37 saves to record his 15th win of the season. Their best player has not been at his best for much of the season, though it appears he has settled into the sort of rhythm that Rangers fans and teammates alike have been previously accustomed.
He’s starting to look like himself again.
“The last few weeks, I think I’m consistent in the way I’ve played my game,” Lundqvist said. “Tonight, I got tested early and you gain confidence when you make a couple saves early on. I’m happy with the way I’m playing my game right now.”
Though the team hasn’t always delivered in front of the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner -- in fact, some of the team’s best efforts have come in front of Cam Talbot -- that was not the case Sunday as the Blueshirts passed Philly for third place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Rangers tallied two goals within 28 seconds early in the opening frame with Carcillo's unassisted wraparound marker against his former team at 2:14, and Rick Nash's 11th of the season at 2:42. Brassard’s blistering one-timer from the left circle gave the Rangers a comfortable 3-0 lead and Lundqvist some room to breathe.
“It definitely helps when we play the way we played in front of me, making good decisions all over the ice,” Lundqvist said.
Though Lundqvist’s shutout bid was spoiled in the third period on Mark Streit's shot from the blue line that found its way to the back of the net for a Flyers’ power-play goal, the 31-year-old Swede is starting to exude the confidence that was conspicuously absent earlier this season.
After giving up 29 goals in 10 December games, Lundqvist has held opponents to two goals or fewer in three straight games.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” said Lundqvist, whose numbers from this season remain markedly worse than those from previous years. “It’s me playing my game, which is deep, patient, waiting for the puck, and when you win a couple of games you gain some confidence and when you have more confidence you’re more patient. And then when you’re more patient you make more saves.”
Whatever the reason, coach Alain Vigneault is satisfied with what he’s seen from his No. 1 goaltender of late.
“How he does it, I don’t care that much,” he said.
With their steadiness in goal and some of their top stars performing to par -- Nash tallied his second goal in as many games and Brad Richards extended his point streak to five games -- the Rangers are gaining some ground in the standings as well.
With a 24-20-3 record and 51 points, tied with fifth-place Washington (though the Capitals have two games in hand), the sixth-place Rangers are positioning themselves for a playoff spot.
The Rangers play four of the next five games at MSG and seem to be much more protective of home ice than last time around, when they squandered a nine-game homestand with an underwhelming 3-4-2 record.
“We really like the way we have played for the last couple of games,” said Brassard, who earned the team’s game MVP Broadway Hat. “We just want to keep going. We have a lot of fun in here.”