Thursday night in their first game at the Staples Center since losing the fifth and decisive game of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final last June, the Rangers spotted the Los Angeles Kings a 2-0 lead less than six minutes into the game, only to storm back and beat the defending Cup champions 4-3.
The Rangers, who beat the Kings 24 hours after an impressive 4-1 victory over the league-leading Ducks in Anaheim, have now won four in a row and 12 of their last 13 games, solidifying their standing as the hottest team in the National Hockey League. They have outscored the opposition 48-21 over their last 13 games.
This is the best such Rangers streak since the club went 14-0-1 from January 7 through February 10, 1973.
"We haven't been behind like that in a long time, so we dug deep," offered defenseman Dan Boyle, who had a two-point night Thursday. "We gave up three which we haven't done in a while, but power play, timely scoring, and just a real good team effort over all got us through."
Cam Talbot steadied himself after a shaky beginning, and finished with 28 saves to earn the win in his first start since December 21st. Boyle contributed a goal and assist on a Rangers power play which connected twice Thursday, and Derick Brassard added a pair of assists.
"You never want to give up two goals on the first five shots to put your team down like that, but my mindset was to battle through, make the next save, and give us the chance to come back," explained Talbot, who stopped 12 of 13 shots in the third period to preserve the win. "A lot of credit goes to our guys, not giving up after we fell behind. We showed a lot of character."
Knowing the Rangers had played the night before, and having not played themselves since last Saturday, the Kings looked to get off to a fast start Thursday, and they did just that, scoring twice to grab a 2-0 lead just 5:49 into the first period. Tanner Pearson was left alone in the low slot to convert a Jeff Carter pass at the 4:12 mark, and a minute 37 seconds later Justin Williams cranked a right-wing slap shot over Talbot's glove to put the weary-looking visitors in an early 2-0 hole.
However instead of collapsing the Rangers composed themselves and slowly began to find their footing, before eventually taking the game over. Chris Kreider had a Grade A opportunity to put the Rangers on the board, but his wide-open one-timer was kicked out by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick at 7:07 of the first, and then Martin St. Louis' right wing snap shot beat Quick, but hit the far post, at 10:22.
Though frustrated that the St. Louis shot hit iron, the Rangers were given life at the same time since Kings' center Mike Richards was also whistled for an interference penalty. It took only five seconds before the Rangers cashed in with a power play goal, to cut the Kings lead to 2-1. Brassard won the offensive-zone face off, Rick Nash slid the puck back to Boyle, and the defenseman's shot hit a Kings' forward on the way to skipping past Quick at 10:27.
"Right now things are going well on the power play, guys are feeling good, and there's a confidence when we have the puck that maybe we didn't have a month ago," stated Boyle, who has nine points so far this season, seven on the power play. "It wasn't pretty, that first goal, it kind of went off that guy's stick; but it does feel good out there."
The 2-1 score held up to the first intermission thanks to Quick, who made another stellar stop on a Carl Hagelin in tight backhand shot following a Kings turnover at 16:06.
That Kings lead would soon disappear in a three-goal blitz by New York in the second period. Kevin Klein tied the game 2:31 into the second, scoring his eighth goal of the season, assisted by Kevin Hayes and John Moore, and 19 seconds later the visitors grabbed their first lead of the night when Lee Stempniak wired his sixth goal past Quick, with J.T. Miller and Dan Girardi assisting.
After scoring twice on their first two shots of the period, the Rangers doubled their lead at 8:17 when St. Louis scored a power play goal from right wing. Boyle, down low from his usual point position, chipped the pass over to St. Louis, who buried his 13th goal of the season and team-high fifth on the power play.
"They capitalized on a couple of our mistakes early on, but we stuck to what we wanted to do--play a fast game," explained head coach Alain Vigneault. "Then in the second period I thought we had some good looks, good net presence, and made it a little more challenging for their goaltender."
New York now has scored at least one power play goal in six of its last seven games, going 10-for-23 in that span. The Rangers were 2-for-4 on the man advantage Thursday, their third multiple power play goal game in their last seven matches.
The Rangers also excelled on the penalty kill, producing a 4-for-4 performance on the kill against a strong Kings power play. Included in that perfect performance Thursday was a key kill in the final minute of the contest after the Kings had pulled within one on Williams' second goal of the night.
Nash was whistled for tripping Anze Kopitar with 35.9 seconds to play, and the Kings had a 6-on-4 power play with Quick pulled. Talbot was forced to make a clutch save in traffic before the final buzzer sounded.
"It was a tough building to come in and play, and it obviously did not end well for us last year, but it was just another game on a tough road trip here and another measuring stick for us moving forward," stated Talbot, who is now 4-3-1 in eight starts this season.
The Rangers will have a day off on Friday, and then will look to finish off a perfect California trip with a win Saturday night in San Jose against the Sharks.