ANAHEIM, Calif. — Only time will tell if the Rangers’ strong start was a fluke or if the last month or so has been the aberration.
But Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Ducks proved the Rangers still have resilience in their DNA and still can play with heart after the club furiously rallied from an early two-goal deficit to end a two-game skid in front of a split crowd at Honda Center.
The way a majority of the game went had Ducks fans cheering like their club was the third best team in the NHL as opposed to one that’s sitting third-to-last in the NHL.
But when push came to shove, the Blueshirts turned it on in the final frame and scored four unanswered goals (including an empty-netter) to steal the win.
Will Cuylle deserves a bulk of the credit for sparking his team. After scoring the equalizer, the Rangers’ rookie drew the penalty that sent the visitors on a power play.
Artemi Panarin capitalized on the man-advantage with a bullet one-timer for their first lead of the night.
To put the game away, Chris Kreider followed up on his own rebound before Jimmy Vesey scored into an empty net.
The Rangers labored through over 37 minutes of the game until they were able to finally break through and cut the Ducks lead to 2-1.
It came on the power play, which had only led to two goals in the previous five games, when Kreider took a puck off the end boards and set up Vincent Trocheck.
Up until that point, the Rangers’ mounting frustrations began to spill out onto the ice.
They looked indecisive and unsure of themselves at times as they worked to find any sort of rhythm.
It prompted head coach Peter Laviolette to jumble up his lines, aside from the Cuylle-Jonny Brodzinski-Blake Wheeler unit at times, which was the only trio showing signs of life in the offensive zone.
Kaapo Kakko also didn’t take his first shift of the second period until more than half the period had passed.
When he finally got out on the ice during five-on-five play, his second and final shift of the middle frame, the Finnish wing was demoted to the fourth line.
The Ducks nearly netted a 3-1 dagger relatively early on in the third period, when Mason McTavish cleaned up a rebound on a wide-open net, but the Rangers’ successful offside challenge wiped it off the board.
That’s when the Rangers produced their first significant push of the night. Continuing to get bodies to the net, as they had tried to do all game, Cuylle battled hard enough in front to get a stick on a long shot from Jacob Trouba and knot the game at 2-2 with 9:50 left in regulation.
The Rangers picked up right where they left off in Los Angeles to start this one, lacking drive and watching as their opponents turned each one of their mistakes into a scoring opportunity or a goal.
It didn’t take long for the latter part of that sentence to happen — 51 seconds, to be exact.
Panarin’s giveaway near the defensive blue line allowed the Ducks to barrel into the Rangers’ zone before Adam Henrique put a backhander past Igor Shesterkin.
The Rangers appeared to be trying to get bodies to the net and put long shots on goal, but the Ducks finished with 14 blocks in the first period as they kept the visitors to the perimeter.
If it weren’t for the Cuylle-Brodzinski-Wheeler line, the Rangers wouldn’t have had much sustained zone time in the opening frame.
When Anaheim had numbers in the Rangers zone later in the period, Henrique jammed in a rebound past both Ryan Lindgren, who blocked Troy Terry’s initial shot, and Shesterkin for the 2-0 lead.