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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Rangers inconsistent, but show toughness

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist celebrates as he skates

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist celebrates as he skates back to his net after he and teammates celebrated an empty-net goal by Derek Stepan in the third period against Boston. (Apr. 4, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

The Rangers' transformation is not yet complete. They have the youth, they have the lunch-pail brigade attitude, but the consistency is not quite there, as the first 30 minutes Monday night showed.

It was yet another of the biggest games of the season, another desperate need for two points to stay ahead of the Hurricanes and keep the Rangers' playoff destiny in their own hands. And they were coming up woefully short, down by three goals, with the Garden "getting ugly," as coach John Tortorella put it.

But there is something to this team. They are not a veteran group and they rarely look to anyone to lead them. Monday night, it was Vinny Prospal, the old goat at 36 in a roomful of 20-somethings, who scored twice in the last half of the second period to pull everyone together.

They weren't thinking about the possibility of blowing their comfort zone, what had been a seven-point cushion a week ago between themselves and the outside of the playoff race. This team hasn't been below eighth in the East since the season was just a few games old, and that matters to a group that doesn't have much experience in these moments.

Except perhaps last season, when the Rangers needed a ton of help to go with their 7-1-1 charge to the final win-and-you're-in game in Philadelphia that fell short. "That's still pretty fresh in my mind," Brandon Dubinsky said. "We don't want to put ourselves in that situation again."

And so it was that Ryan Callahan, fighting the puck and himself for a few games now, made the perfect, patient play to Dubinsky to tie it with 3:48 left. And so it was that Marian Gaborik and Brian Boyle, neither of whom accomplished much on their usual lines Monday night, won one-on-one battles below the Bruins' goal line to get the puck out front, where Michael Sauer got the puck a couple of inches over the line just 51 seconds later.

And so it is that these Rangers, who seem to be fighting just to make the playoffs much, much harder than the Jaromir Jagr-led teams of a few seasons ago ever had to, still control their destiny.

Still not needing to look around and wonder what sort of effort the Hurricanes will bring Wednesday against the Red Wings, what sort of night the Sabres will have against Tampa Tuesday night.

"I don't think any of us have been thinking for one second that somebody is putting more pressure on us than ourselves," Prospal said. "Carolina won't quit, Buffalo won't quit, nobody will. We have to stay positive and not give anybody a chance to try and sneak up on us and take it away."

There is also this fact: The Rangers have won their last six games against the top four teams in the East. The Bruins, who have clinched at least third in the conference, came in having allowed the fewest goals and boasting a 28-1-2 record when leading after two periods.

They leave wondering what it would be like to face these Rangers in a seven-game series. But that is still to come.

The Rangers have the Thrashers on Thursday and the Devils on Saturday and cannot afford to let up, not if they want to ensure a postseason berth and keep the pressure on everyone else. "When you show you can play this way," Tortorella said, "you have to continue it."

New York Sports