When it was over, there was a theme which emanated from all corners of the New York Rangers’ dressing room.
"I feel like the last few games we’ve been moving in the right direction,” Henrik Lundqvist said after the Rangers topped the Senators, 4-1, Sunday night at the Garden.
Despite ending a two-game losing streak, the Blueshirts will make their Western Canada trip having dropped six of 10. Still, Lundqvist believes the Rangers are on the verge of recalibrating themselves to their accustomed standard of play.
“Step by step we are building something and we are coming closer to where we need to be,” Lundqvist said. “It’s about building confidence and about feeling good about yourself and the group.”
Their confidence and style of hockey had been questioned following losses to Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, the Islanders and Colorado by an aggregate of 16-6. The only win in that stretch was a surprisingly tough 4-3 decision over Carolina on Nov. 30.
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Against Ottawa, the Rangers attacked early as Ryan McDonagh and Derick Brassard scored first period power play goals before putting the Senators away late. Brassard and Jesper Fast scored third period even-strength goals to grow a 2-1 advantage into the final margin of victory.
“We made plays,” Brassard said. “We had a really good first period and the special teams were partly the main reason. It gave us some momentum. We’re just trying to move the puck around. When the guys are [open] to take some shots they took them and we got some screens in front.
“It’s what we’re trying to do every time.”
While the Rangers attacked in the opening and final periods, they found themselves being forced to defend in the second. Ottawa outshot the Rangers 13-9 in the second, and Marc Method scored the Senators’ only goal at 6:10.
That Ottawa was unable to further capitalize was due to Lundqvist, who finished with 23 saves and passed Mike Richter for first place on the franchise’s all-time non-shootout wins list. He also tied Evgeni Nabokov for 18th place on the NHL’s all-time wins list.
“You have to expect it,” Lundqvist said of Ottawa’s second period. “They also had a couple power play opportunities which gives their top players some confidence and momentum. They created a few chances. I think we blocked a lot of shots. They had some big opportunities and we managed to get sticks or legs or hands in the way.
“We made big plays at the right time."
And now they head out to Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary with six points for the taking. Vancouver is 9-11-8, Edmonton has lost 17 of 28, and Calgary only has 10 wins in 26 games.
“I’m really happy with the way we played in the third,” Lundqvist said. “The whole game was smart and poised.
“The third period, it felt like the first couple weeks of the season. We were back to making good decisions with and without the puck."
You can follow NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter: @DenisGorman