This one was a long time coming.

               Although the Rangers had won three straight games on the road, their recent performances at Madison Square Garden had been dismal: 1-7-1 in the last nine and at 7-9-1 overall, they ranked next to last in the NHL for records at home.

               Vinny Prospal had little to celebrate either. He hadn’t scored since Nov. 21---a 14-game stretch.

               Both of those slides halted tonight; Prospal buried two wristers past Florida’s Tomas Vokoun and Chris Drury scored his third goal in four games and stripped the puck to lead to Marian Gaborik’s shorthander. Toss in Henrik Lundqvist’s 33 saves for his fourth straight win and the Rangers downed the Panthers 4-1. 

              “It’s Christmas Eve for me tonight,” said Prospal, who said his first goal at 4:55 of the second when Ryan Callahan kicked the puck to him out of a scrum on the power play was a huge relief. “There were games when I had glorious chances and didn’t put them in, so I feel great. But we were ready to play; we know the last game we played at home (a 2-1 loss to the Islanders) we got embarrassed and we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again, And all of a sudden when you’re winning, maybe the bounces go our way.”

               Lundqvist, who has allowed just five goals in the winning streak, said a players’ only meeting the day after the loss to the Isles helped spark the turnaround.               

               “We had a really good talk, about playing with emotion, getting more involved physically, I think the last four wins we’ve been more aggressive, more physical and we’ve been responding to goals right away,” said Lundqvist, referring to Drury’s goal that deflected past Vokoun just 2:13 after Victor Oreskovich gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 4:09 of the first period. The slapper from the high slot was Drury’s fifth of the season and second at the Garden, which finallyh had some of the early season energy. That's what scoring more than two goals a game will do.

                   Prospal, who signed a one-year contract after being wooed by Tortorella, for whom he had played in Tampa, made it 3-1 at the 23-second mark of the third. “You ask any hockey player, it’s streaky,” he said. “Cally has been hot, now Drury’s scoring and Gabby (seven shots) scored again. There’s other guys who can get going, too.”  

                  Gaborik’s 26th came on a backhander that slid through Vokoun from an angle at 11:14 of the third after Drury battled with Dennis Seidenberg at center ice, took off and was tripped from behind as the puck squirted ahead. The delayed penalty---or possible penalty shot---for Drury was negated by the goal, but the rangers had a three-goal lead and an easy finish.

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               “Good effort from start to finish,” said Callahan, who had five hits. We’re coming in here with confidence. Our PK (4-for-4) came up big for us a couple times and we got one on the power play. “I think we wanted to prove something at home and and I think we were bringing the confidence from the three big road wins.”

               The Panthers were on a 5-1-1 run, so credit the defense as well: Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were matched against Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss, the Panthers’ leading scorers, and kept them off the scoresheet.

               The Rangers (18-16-3) now have two days off before facing the Islanders here again on Saturday. “I don’t know,” joked Prospal. “Maybe we should have another meeting.”

****

              More from the players:

 

              Gaborik, who now has 26 goals and 23 assists, one point shy of 50. "Hank was excellent again and I think we worked hard, battled hard. It's great to see Vinny get a couple of goals. You can see he was excited about that."

             

            Tortorella on Prospal: "He hasn;t scored in a while, but has been playing well. Everybody goes through it but with him, you never have to worry about the effort."

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           Callahan on Lundqvist: He has been our backbone all year. He comes up with some key stops tonight. (I twittered two of them in the second period, calling them the saves of the game, the glove stab on Michal Frolik was superb."

 

           Tortorella on the importance of winning at home: "You are juts not going to get where you want to be if you don;t establish yourself at home. I thought we did it the right way tonight. We have quite a few home games coming up here (five of the next six). Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction." 

 

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              Lundqvist, who has held opponents to two goals or fewer in nine of his last 10 games, : "We believe in our system right now."

 

BY THE NUMBERS

 

               The Rangers are 11-for-11 in PKs against the Panthers in three games this season and have killed 20 of the last 21 overall ...Prospal, with his sixth multi-point game of the season, is now 14-31-45 in 56 career games against Florida....Gaborik has 36 goals in the last 45 games, in Minnesota and here...His shortie was the Rangers' fourth of the year...Brandon Dubinsky, Sean Avery and Enver Lisin each had assists...

              Merry Christmas, Blue Noters. Enjoy!