NEW YORK – The last time the New York Rangers played at Madison Square Garden, coach John Tortorella unleashed a postgame tirade and followed it up with benchings and demotions.
What a difference a week makes.
Since that uninspired one-goal loss to the New York Islanders on Dec. 16, the Rangers have ripped off four straight wins. The latest, a solid 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night, was as complete an effort as the Broadway Blueshirts have displayed in some time.
“We were trying to find a way to win at home,” a much calmer Tortorella said. “I thought everyone contributed. These games before the break, you just don’t want them to think it’s Christmas too early. I thought we played well and deserved to win.”
Vinny Prospal broke out of a 14-game drought with a pair of goals, and the Rangers posted more than three goals for just the second time in 14 games. However, they have done it twice during this winning streak.
The Rangers, who earned three straight road wins before returning home, picked up their first victory at Madison Square Garden since Nov. 23 by snapping an 0-4-1 skid there.
Captain Chris Drury wiped out the Panthers’ early 1-0 lead and then assisted when Marian Gaborik scored his NHL-leading 26th goal on a short-handed breakaway in the third period to make it 4-1 during a delayed penalty.
“Coming home, it kind of validates it,” Drury said. “If you lose this one, it doesn’t really do too much for you from the road trip. The theme yesterday and today was making sure we kind of finished it off here.”
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 33 shots while making his 11th straight start. He was briefly shaken up when Florida’s Keith Ballard struck him in the head with his left knee. Ballard became well known when he accidentally hit Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun in the ear with his stick as he attempted to smack it against the post in anger after a goal was scored by Atlanta on Nov. 30.
The Rangers are on their best streak since winning seven straight following an opening-night loss. They were 0-3-2 before this run. Lundqvist has allowed three goals or fewer in 10 straight games.
“The last four games we have been more physical, more aggressive. The puck is starting to bounce our way a little bit,” Lundqvist said. “I think I am playing really well, but the guys playing in front are playing really, really well. They are making really good decisions.”
Victor Oreskovich scored for the Panthers, who went 3-2 in a busy eight-day stretch. Vokoun made 28 saves.
“As a team, I thought we played really well,” Oreskovich said. “There is not much you can do when a goalie is playing that well.”
Prospal, a top-line forward, hadn’t scored since the Rangers lost at home to the Panthers on Nov. 21. He pushed his season total to eight with his second two-goal game since joining New York in the off-season.
Prospal gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead 4:55 into the second and then provided insurance at 23 seconds of the third. Prospal fired a shot in from the slot after Brandon Dubinsky found him with a pass from behind the net. Gaborik scored with 8:46 left.
In the second period, Gaborik smacked a shot from near the right post that was stopped by Vokoun. Ryan Callahan kicked the puck to Prospal, who scored his third power-play goal.
“It’s been some time,” Prospal said. “Any player is going to tell you that sometimes you start pressing a little more. There were games when I had glorious chances and I wasn’t able to put them in. It feels great for me.
“It just happens sometimes, you go some stretches without a goal. We haven’t been scoring a lot as a hockey team.”
Lundqvist protected the 2-1 lead when he quickly flashed his glove to knock Michael Frolik’s rising drive into the protective netting above the glass with 3:39 left in the second.
“We had some pretty good chances, but he was pretty good,” Frolik said. “We didn’t play a bad game.”
The up-and-down middle period featured 29 shots – 15 by the Panthers, who held a 25-23 shots edge through 40 minutes.
The suddenly resurgent Drury lifted the Rangers into a 1-1 tie at 6:22 of the first when he scored his third goal in four games and fifth overall.
Oreskovich had given the Panthers a 1-0 lead 4:09 into the game. He hadn’t scored in 20 games, dating to Nov. 16 at Los Angeles.
NOTES: Rangers D Dan Girardi missed the rest of the first period after being struck in the left knee by Nathan Horton’s power-play shot at 9:50. He returned to start the second. … Drury has scored only twice at home. … Florida was 0 for 4 on the power play and allowed its sixth short-handed goal.