Maybe this is what a team looks like when management signals "we're all in.''
Enthusiastic and energized by the contract extension given to top-six right wing Mats Zuccarello and the acquisition of All-Star defenseman Keith Yandle before the trade deadline, the Rangers beat the Nashville Predators, 4-1, Monday night at Madison Square Garden. The Predators entered the night leading the NHL with 89 points.
The Rangers, relieved that the deadline had passed, launched 39 shots at Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. Cam Talbot, who was particularly sharp in the third period, made 25 saves to earn his 13th victory.
Rick Nash registered his 38th goal of the season, an empty-netter with 44 seconds left, after Dom Moore scored on a rebound to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead at 5:51 of the third.
Zuccarello, who looked distracted by contract negotiations during Saturday night's loss to Philadelphia, played with verve, assisting on goals by Marc Staal and Chris Kreider that gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead early in the second period.
The Rangers (39-17-6, 84 points) moved back into a tie with the Islanders for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Blueshirts have two games in hand.
Yandle had three shots in 19:41 in his debut. "I'm just here to play,'' said the defenseman, who downplayed Coyotes general manager Don Maloney's opinion that he could be the missing piece to a Rangers Stanley Cup. "Gotta get my feet wet.''
Yandle, who was drafted by the Coyotes in 2005 and began playing for them in the 2006-07 season, said that in Arizona, you can "fly under the radar a little bit, but it's MSG. You can't hide from the lights here.
"These guys have a heck of a team,'' said the Boston-born Yandle, who once idolized former Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch. "It was a tough situation in Arizona. It's a new day.''
He added, "Coming from a more defensive style in Phoenix, it's a little different system. You look up and guys are ahead of the game a little bit, guys are flying around, It's a lot of fun to play that type of game. I'm looking forward to getting a little more comfortable.''
Staal said of the trade deadline, "Every year, doesn't matter what team you're on, for a few days before, you're thinking about it, and when it's over, you get excited for the group you have to go to the end of the season and the playoffs with. You get a talent like that [Yandle] in your lineup going down the stretch, you get excited to try to make a run."
Said Derek Stepan, "With the deadline past, and you see the players who came in, everyone was real excited to be here. We know here comes the push next. You've got to be ready to play."
In a fast-paced first period, Mike Fisher fell in the neutral zone and Dan Boyle found Derick Brassard up ice. His pass to Zuccarello was tipped toward Nash on the left side, but Staal grabbed the puck and fired past Rinne's glove at 6:36.
The Rangers made it 2-0 at 4:14 of the second period. After Carl Hagelin took a lead pass from Kevin Hayes and hit the crossbar from the left circle, Kreider scored his 17th goal, streaking to the net to deflect Zuccarello's pass. Brassard matched Zuccarello with his second assist of the game.
Said Staal, "We were excited, confident. We had a good feeling going into a game against the best team in the NHL. It's a weight off everyone's shoulders in this room. There was a good vibe, from the player we got and the amount of talent he has. There's a good feeling in the room going forward.''