Rangers Displaying Character & Will

Hate to say “I told ya so.” Well, maybe I don’t really hate to say it, but I told ya so.

The Rangers, once again, answered the bell in a character-test weekend, shaking off the cobwebs of their little 0-1-1 slump, which really wasn’t very good at all, and responding with a pair of impressive back-to-back victories.

They beat a couple of heavyweight teams – Los Angeles a much better opponent than Boston, overall – in a span of about 22 hours.

[Watch Rangers-Ducks Tuesday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Thoughts:

1. I don’t know what it is about this group’s character, but they’ve been responding to adversity this way all the way back to the John Tortorella era. Which is interesting, I think, because so much of the cast as changed, with the notable exceptions of Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash.

2. They’ve also thrived in back-to-backs, when what’s between the ears and what beats in the chest are as important as skill or speed or gameplan execution.

3. It starts with Lundqvist, obviously. His record when starting both ends of a back-to-back set is worth repeating (and updating; with special thanks to Rangers’ stat man Michael Rappaport). This was the 81st time Lundqvist has started both games. In the second game of those 81 sets, he is 53-21-7 with a 2.02 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and nine shutouts. In the last eight of those situations, he’s 8-0, 1.73, .948 and has allowed two goals or fewer in all of them.

Henrik Lundqvist talks about how the Rangers have found ways to win and how important every game is with how tight the standings are.

4. After the game in Boston, a 3-2 overtime win, Lundqvist explained, “You challenge yourself. I feel like the more I play, the more relaxed I get.” He said his extra playing time, and his desire to play in the back-to-backs, was discussed over the summer with coach Alain Vigneault. “It gets me in the right mindset,” Lundqvist said. “Physically it’s challenging, but mentally it’s easier, I find, but the biggest part of the game is the mental aspect, so … it’s a fun challenge to have in front of you.” Vigneault asked him after the LA game, one in which he was certainly challenged by a big team that likes to bump in the crease, how he felt. Lundqvist’s answer was that he wanted to play. You saw the result.

5. The back-to-back success isn’t all about Lundqvist though. In 102 back-to-back sets (since the start of 2010-11), the Rangers are 67-29-6 in the second game. Again, it’s about character. And will. Whatever you think about the Rangers, they have proved “positive” in those categories for a long time.

6. Mats Zuccarello really could have been a goat in Boston, and instead turned out to be a hero (with a heaping of help from Chris Kreider’s screen on the game-winning power-play goal). Zuccarello admitted he had a rough game, took a bad penalty (when the Rangers were all over the Bruins during a long shift in the Boston zone), admitted he made some bad plays in the OT, which caused him to play the entire OT by the way. But with one perfectly placed shot, he ended up the hero and the Rangers had their second win in a row.

7. Afterwards, Ryan McDonagh talked about how he encourages Zuccarello to shoot more – a common theme from coaches, teammates and, yes, fans. Zuccarello has a terrific shot, sneaky and accurate, but it’s usually his last option, it seems. Same with Kevin Hayes, and before him Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard.

8. With Mika Zibanejad getting close to returning – he was scheduled to practice with the team Monday – an interesting decision will follow. J.T. Miller did some tremendous work as a center during Zibanejad’s absence, and David Desharnais, who was the odd-man out before Zibanejad got hurt, filled Zibanejad’s spot between Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich quite well.

Alain Vigneault talks about how the lineup will change with Mika Zibanejad returning Tuesday vs. Anaheim.

9. So, does Vigneault stick with Miller as the center of that important line with Zuccarello and Nash? Or does he return Miller to his usual spot on the wing, and put Desharnais in as a third-line center?

10. Miller’s natural position is center, but as an NHLer, he’s been more effective on the wing, a position both he and Vigneault have said fit his game. Miller admitted it was his fault, and his man, on the deciding goal in Ottawa. Then he followed with two strong games against Los Angeles and Boston. I think his natural instincts are better suited to the wing, and he can be a more physical player on the wing. But he’s shown during this stretch that he can be a force in the middle.

11. How about Vigneault having Jimmy Vesey, Zuccarello and Miller on the ice with a one-goal lead in the final minute against the Kings, resulting in the empty-net clincher? Granted, it followed an icing and it could have been a partial line change. But that they were out there before the icing, that late, says a lot. That it was Vesey’s block and pass, and Zuccarello’s feed and Miller’s drive to the net that put the game away says a lot too.

[Watch Rangers-Ducks Tuesday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]