Over the past handful of games, the New York Rangers have looked like the Washington Capitals, scoring five or more goals in four straight games, including 17 the last three, during their current season-high five-game winning streak.
For most of the season, though, the Blueshirts found themselves playing tight, one-goal games that were usually decided in the final period. That is what happened Tuesday night against the lowly Florida Panthers, when it took a Brandon Dubinsky goal-mouth tally eight minutes into the third period to lift the Rangers over the Cats, 1-0. Henrik Lundqvist finished with 22 saves for his league-leading 10th shutout of the season.
In one of the more dull games of the season, the Rangers controlled play throughout the game but couldn't break Tomas Vokoun, who finished with 32 saves.
New York had several odd-man rushes, including one just minutes into the game by Marian Gaborik, who has finally started to see his name appear on the scoresheet more frequently but was snake-bitten by the Panthers' netminder.
The Rangers didn't give the Panthers much room all night and were able to stay out of the penalty box entirely, not giving Florida a single power play to work with. It was the first time since 2009 the Rangers finished without a single obstruction. The Rangers only had one penalty to work with as well and failed to capitalize.
The line of Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov was the best for the Rangers all night and have found their early-season form during this current win streak. Their play behind the net, a style that has become a Ranger trademark, led to the only goal 7:49 into the third period.
Dubinsky worked the puck behind the net behind, throwing it to the slot for Anisimov, who had trouble controlling it in his skates. Callahan found the loose puck, showed patience in waiting for Vokoun to leave the net and fed Dubinsky in the slot, who buried it while on one knee.
"It's a pretty good feeling to bury it here," said Dubinsky, who set a new career-high for goals with 22. "We were buzzing around for most of the night. We knew we were going to get one and we capitalized on it."
The Panthers came inches away from tying the game in the dying seconds. A puck found its way through traffic and seemed to graze off Lundqvist and then the post, but ultimately stayed out of the net.
Rangers coach John Tortorella warned his team before the game to avoid falling into a trap coming off an emotional win in Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon and coming home to play one of the Eastern Conference's cellar-dwellers.
"Tonight just shows that you have to win hockey games in different ways down in the end here," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who played well after taking an elbow from the Penguins' Matt Cooke Sunday.
The Rangers, who played without All-Star defenseman Marc Staal for the second straight game due to an undisclosed injury, moved to 84 points with the win, but received no help in the standings. Ninth place Carolina (78 points) defeated Ottawa, and eighth place Buffalo (81 points) defeated Montreal. The Rangers moved to within three points of the Canadiens with their loss.
Quotes courtesy of NHL.com
Follow me on Twitter @matt_calamia