Another hurdle cleared for the New York Rangers as their surprising season atop the standings continue.
A two-goal third period on Saturday lifted the Blueshirts to a 3-2 victory over the woeful Philadelphia Flyers — losers of seven straight — to end their season-long five-game road trip spanning nearly two weeks on a winning note and with a winning record (3-2).
“We talked about it. To come out of this trip over .500 would be really good,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said. “You always want to win every game you play, but there was a lot going on for our team. More so than any other time this year.”
Even more impressive was that they pulled out a win in Philadelphia after flying back to New York from San Jose, where they played the Sharks, just a day earlier before making the quick stop in the City of Brotherly Love.
“The long flight, the guys had five-and-a-half hours [on a plane], you get in at 7 o’clock in the evening, come all the way back here and then playing the next day,” Gallant added. “They played hard, they played a good, consistent hockey game, they played for 60 minutes, and I was really proud of everyone tonight. We competed and we played well, and everybody chipped in.”
The Rangers managed to take their final two games of the road trip while dealing with constant roster turnover sparked by a minor COVID outbreak that spread through its ranks. That included the likes of Gallant, goaltender Igor Shesterkin, Ryan Reaves, Alexis Lafreniere, and Barclay Goodrow.
“It just seemed like it was one guy every day,” Gallant said. “But they battled, they found a way. The guys that are on the taxi squad, they got called up and played great hockey for us.”
The win moved the Rangers back up into first place in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes. Granted, the Hurricanes have played four fewer games than the Blueshirts.
Regardless, this was a Rangers team that had limited expectations now firmly in a playoff spot nearing the midway point of the 2021-22 season. They’ve won six of their last eight games, earned at least one point in eight of their last 11, and have points in 23 of their last 31 games (20-8-3).
“The resilience of this group, I think we have a lot of trust in everyone that’s playing,” All-Star defenseman Adam Fox said. “Whether someone gets called up, someone goes down with COVID, it’s that kind of year. You can’t really dwell on losing a guy, I think you’ve got to respond.
“This road trip, it seemed like we were losing a guy each day. I think we responded well to that, just a nice way to end the road trip.”