On Tuesday, Rangers center Derick Brassard had called the next quartet of games, including games against the Penguins, Kings, Flyers and Blackhawks, “a turning point in our season.”
The Rangers, still missing injured top-pair defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward Rick Nash, completed the first step of the mission on Wednesday with a 3-0 win in Pittsburgh to extend their winning streak to four games. Next up, Los Angeles visits Madison Square Garden on Friday.
“The team’s playing pretty well together,” Brassard said. “We’re working hard, competing. Guys are stepping up at the right time . . . We just have to keep this thing rolling. We’re playing some really good teams this upcoming week. If we want to make the playoffs, we have to be good.’’
Playoff plans aside, the Rangers, who have won five straight at the Garden and are 20-5-2 at home, the third-best record in the league, will have to be very good to beat the Kings, who have surged into first place in the Pacific Division.
Since McDonagh, who had rediscovered his all-around game in the past month, departed with a concussion from Wayne Simmonds’ gloved left to the jaw midway through the first period last Saturday in Philadelphia, his teammates have risen to the task. They’ve allowed two goals (one at even strength) in 8 ½ periods and an overtime.
“Anytime you miss some of your top people, it’s an opportunity for some other guys to step up,” coach Alain Vigneault said after Wednesday’s win. “The third goal that put the game away, Jesper [Fast] made a strong play to get to the red line to take the hit, and put the puck into the empty net. He knows he’s going to get crushed there. Those are the things you need to do to win games. ’’
The Fast-Brassard-J.T. Miller line was assigned to cover Sidney Crosby’s line whenever possible and held them pointless, which was quite an achievement. “He makes something out of nothing, and being on the same page, all five guys, really helped us,” Miller said.
Notes & quotes: The Rangers, who were off Thursday, passed on Kings defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, 33, who played for Vig neault in Vancouver in 2009-10 and 2010-11, and so did every other club, as the veteran cleared waivers . . . The Rangers are 7-2-1 against Pacific Division opponents and visit Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose in March . . . The Rangers are 21-4-2 when scoring the first goal . . . The Rangers were credited with 46 hits against the Penguins, second only to the 52 in Brooklyn against the Islanders on Dec. 2.