WINNIPEG – The New York Rangers continue to sand down any remaining rough edges as they prepare for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Rangers earned their 49th victory of the season, taking a 4-2 win at the MTS Centre over the Winnipeg Jets. The win pushed the Rangers into the League lead at 105 points, one win ahead of the idle St. Louis Blues, who also have the same point total.
New York (49-21-7) is also five points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Eastern Conference lead, and the win improved New York's mark in the second half of back-to-back games to 10-2-2. New York has now won five of its past six outings and also swept the four-game season series with Winnipeg, allowing only three goals.
"This week has been great for us," Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of his club that took road wins on consecutive nights against the Jets and Minnesota. "We're playing really well and doing a lot of good things."
Winnipeg's (35-34-8) late-season tailspin continues. The Jets have lost five of their past six games, including a season-high three straight on home ice. A four-game road trip that begins at Carolina awaits the Jets before their home final on April 7.
"I think so," Jets coach Claude Noel replied when asked whether the Jets’ pursuit of the postseason has finally caught up with his club. "When you look at the energy level, I think it has."
No disagreement with Noel's assessment came from winger Tanner Glass.
"I think I'd be lying if I said we weren't a little emotionally drained," Glass said, "but I think everyone is at this point of the season."
But Noel refrained from any heavier criticism of his club.
"I'm not going to beat up on our team, let's put it that way," Noel said. "I would rather just hold my thoughts to myself in regards to that."
The Rangers survived a sluggish start that led to a two-goal deficit. Two second-period goals erased Winnipeg's early lead before the Rangers took the lead for good 3:07 into the third period. Brian Boyle dug out a puck along the end boards, approached the right edge of Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec's crease and jammed his ninth goal of the season over Pavelec. Boyle now has three goals in his past four games. Derek Stepan then added the Rangers' second power-play strike of the game midway through the third period.
"It was a good game for us and where we're at as a team right now to come back," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We just regrouped and played our game."
A shorthanded goal from Michael Del Zotto and Ryan Callahan's power-play tally sparked New York's comeback, while Lundqvist recovered from allowing a pair of Jets goals 56 seconds apart early in the second period to stop 22 shots. Marian Gaborik also chipped in a two-assist performance for the Rangers, who converted twice on five power-play chances.
Rebooting a power play that began the game ranked 29th in the League is a major objective for the Rangers as the regular season winds down.
"If our power play could come alive, that would be good," Boyle said. "We pretty much want to have all systems go."
Winnipeg's Spencer Machacek and Bryan Little notched goals while Pavelec made his 13th consecutive start and finished with 24 saves.
The Rangers only managed four shots in the opening period. Winnipeg, however, had the game's first four power-play situations with which to work over the first 21 minutes. But the Rangers burned off all Winnipeg power plays, including a 5-on-3 opportunity for 1:43.
"Sometimes it's an indication of your skill level, not always," Noel said of a Winnipeg power play that has managed only three goals while up two skaters this season. "The theories I have, I don't care to share."
Shortly after the Jets' fourth power play expired, Machacek moved down the right wing inside the visitors' zone before he steered a shot that fooled Lundqvist and slipped between his pads at 3:58.
Fifty-six seconds later, Winnipeg's first line awakened two nights after a loss to the Ottawa Senators in which it went a combined minus-11. Little converted an in-close chance through Lundqvist's legs for a two-goal lead.
"With all of the penalties that we took, we just couldn't get our game going," Tortorella said. "I thought that (Lundqvist) was really good in the first half. Once we got into some sort of flow as far as people getting onto the ice, I thought that's when we felt a lot more comfortable."
But the Rangers answered quickly in halving the Winnipeg lead while shorthanded. Callahan fended off Jets forward Tim Stapleton behind the Winnipeg net, wheeled around to the left post and nudged the puck across the crease to Del Zotto, who pushed it past Pavelec only 2:50 after Little's goal.
"(The shorthanded goal) was a big turning point," Lundqvist said. "That goal meant a lot to us."
New York then tied the game late on the power play with 1:37 left in the period. Callahan knocked home a rebound from the edge of Pavelec’s crease 23 seconds into an Alexander Burmistrov minor penalty.
"Especially of late," Callahan said, "I thought we've had a lot of chances on our power plays, but they just haven't been going in for us. Hopefully we can use (tonight) as a little bit of momentum going forward over the next week and into the postseason.
For us to have success, that is how it's going to have to be. Tonight is a good chance for us to build on and keep going."
Goals from Boyle and Stepan followed and added further frustration to the Winnipeg bench.
"We definitely haven't been playing our best lately," Little said, "and it kind of reminds me of the start of the season where we couldn't just finish teams off, and we couldn't play with the lead, and that's what we had tonight. We had a good opportunity and we let it slip away from us."
Now the Rangers return to Madison Square Garden for Original Six meetings with Montreal and Boston, and they sent Tortorella home pleased.
"It was a really big play by (Callahan) on the shorthanded goal," Tortorella said. "He does all the things. But everybody, not to shortchange Cally, but it's the best that we've played (over) the last 30, 35 minutes of (a) game in a while. Both away from the puck, our stinginess, blocking shots, just doing the things we need to do."