COLUMBUS, Ohio - A .500 record is hardly hallowed ground, nothing to celebrate, unless, of course, a team was in danger of being buried and had higher expectations.
That's where the Rangers were, at 2-6 in early October, with a new coaching staff and a fan base on the ledge. Gradually, the Blueshirts shook off the dust from a brutal season-opening Western swing and last night climbed to 8-8 with a 4-2 victory over the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
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"We want to play better than we did, and we know we should be .500, at least," said Carl Hagelin, who scored two goals, one on a pretty deflection off the rush in the first period, and was credited with the other on an inadvertent own goal by forward Mark Letestu to extend the lead to 3-1 in the second. "It's good to be there, and now we've got to start climbing."
Rookie goaltender Cam Talbot made 32 saves and won his third game in four tries. "He's been rock solid ever since his first start," Marc Staal said.
Talbot wasn't on the team, let alone in the spotlight, before the first "reunion" game between the Rangers and Blue Jackets since the two multi-player trades in the summer of 2012 and April 2013, which re-shaped both clubs, with players such as Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik, Derick Brassard and the injured Rick Nash changing jerseys.
Neither was Ryan Callahan, who stubbornly stayed in the crease while being shoved, sticked and pushed by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky for a deflection that gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead at 4:17 of the second period. Nor was Ryan McDonagh, who flipped in a bouncing, rink-length empty-netter with 54 seconds left.
In the second, Letestu's gaffe was answered 48 seconds later, when Ryan Murray's seeing-eye shot went through Dubinsky's screen to cut the lead to one again. Talbot stopped Dubinsky's shorthanded breakaway with a pad save with a minute to play in the second to keep the Rangers ahead. The Rangers finished with 21 shots in the second to tie a season-high for a period.
But it was a different strategy in the third, when the Rangers had to protect a one-goal lead. "It was back-to-back nights, four games in six nights, so we did what we had to do, we talked about making it a greasy third period," coach Alain Vigneault said. That can be a recipe for disaster, but it worked, as Talbot and his teammates held off a 14-3 shot advantage by the Jackets, who lost their fifth straight.
The Rangers are headed in the other direction -- they earned their sixth win in eight games and have allowed two goals or fewer in the past nine. "It's better than being below .500," Vigneault said. "Slowly but surely, we're improving."
Notes & quotes: Taylor Pyatt did not return after a high hit from Columbus D Fedor Tyutin at 3:28 of the second. Tyutin was given an elbowing minor.