The lead seemed insurmountable, and the Rangers were looking down the barrel of losing control of their playoff spot.
But in a jaw-dropping display of resilience Monday night, the Blueshirts crafted their most inspirational rally of a season that was on the brink, scoring five straight goals to erase a three-goal deficit in a 5-3 victory over the Bruins.
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With the Rangers trailing 3-0 against Vezina Trophy favorite Tim Thomas midway through the second period at a restless Madison Square Garden, the oldest player on the young squad, Vinny Prospal, scored at 11:34.
"When Vinny scored, I think everybody got the feeling, 'maybe,' " goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said.
"That sparked us," coach John Tortorella said. "He's got the emotion and enthusiasm of a young kid."
Less than seven minutes later, Prospal took a pass from Wojtek Wolski and beat Thomas for his eighth goal of the season. Improbably, it was a game. But plenty of drama was yet to unfold.
The Bruins held the Rangers at bay -- denying their fourth power play of the night early in the third period -- and it seemed as if even one critical point was not going to be gained against a team that was 28-1-2 when leading after 40 minutes.
"I had all the time in the world," said Dubinsky, who was mobbed by his teammates as bedlam reigned at the Garden.
Then, instead of being satisfied with the point, the Rangers attacked. The next unlikely hero, rookie defenseman Michael Sauer, found himself with the puck in the corner and Thomas coming out to challenge him.
"I knew I had to keep it low," said Sauer, who had only two goals this season. Thomas got a piece, but not enough, at 17:03. "I didn't even see the puck go in, but I saw [Brian] Boyle celebrate. It may be fluky, but I'll take it."
Biggest goal of his career? "I'd say so," Sauer said.
Derek Stepan added an empty-netter with 57 seconds left.
With two games to play, the Rangers have 91 points, tied with Montreal for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres (90) and the Hurricanes (87) have three games left in the regular season. The Rangers host the Thrashers on Thursday and the Devils on Saturday.
The evening started with the Bruins controlling play. They outshot the Rangers 19-5 in the first period and took a 2-0 lead. The jacked-up, noisy crowd was quieted, and scattered boos followed the Rangers off the ice at the end of 20 minutes.
Before their 80th game of the season, Tortorella denied that the Rangers were fatigued, although they had lost the second game of back-to-back series five consecutive times.
"At this point of the season, you can't be tired," he said. "I think you can will yourself to get through."
And that's what they did.
"There was no panic, and Dubi makes a great move,'' Tortorella said. "I'm not a big lovefest guy, but I like how we've stuck with it. It's a great lesson and I'm happy for them."