Without a doubt, this landslide of goals by the Rangers — 21 in the previous four games, with at least five in each — couldn’t be sustained for very much longer.
Or could it?
After all, Sunday night’s game was their fifth in the past eight days.
But J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Pavel Buchnevich scored 4:04 apart late in the second period as the Rangers won their fifth straight, beating the Winnipeg Jets, 5-2, at Madison Square Garden.
With the Jets’ physical play forcing poor decisions and mental mistakes, all signs pointed to trouble for a Rangers team that had played the night before.
But then lightning struck. Starting at 13:01 of the second, Miller, Fast and Buchnevich scored at even strength to give the Rangers a three-goal lead. Combined with a goal by Mats Zuccarello earlier in the period, it was four goals in 7:03. “You never know what’s going to happen,’’ Henrik Lundqvist said. “There’s a lot of skilled players out there; a game can change in a minute, 30 seconds.”
Remarkably, the Rangers have scored 26 goals in the last 15 periods and at least five in five straight games. They hadn’t done that since 1979.
“You’re not expecting to score five goals every night. That’s a lot against the goaltending talent in this league,” Miller said. “We’ve played a lot of hockey lately. Some games you don’t really have it, but you find ways. [Brandon] Pirri’s line [with Fast and Buchnevich] stepped up with two more goals tonight that were big.”
It didn’t look positive when the Rangers coughed up their second one-goal lead at 12:02 of the second. With the puck loose in the crease, Brady Skjei’s face-first dive didn’t help and no one covered Mark Scheifele, who tied the score at 2.
But Miller skated to the right dot and beat starter Connor Hellebucyk (12 saves) above his glove for a 3-2 lead 59 seconds later. Then Kevin Klein’s slap shot from the point went past Hellebucyk after it was ticked by Fast, and Michael Hutchinson relieved Hellebucyk.
Buchnevich, who scored his first NHL goal on Saturday night against the Bruins, didn’t wait long for his second, attacking the crease and lifting his shot past Hutchinson at 17:05.
With a big lead, all the Rangers (10-3) had to do was defend, and they did, killing off Rick Nash’s penalty with 7:12 left. They had only 18 shots on goal, none in the third period, but won for the eighth time in the last nine games. “I don’t think we’re super-pleased with everything in our game, but we’re finding ways to win games,’’ Lundqvist said. “You can’t expect it to be perfect every night. The big thing we have is that different guys have been stepping up in key moments.”
Said Ryan McDonagh, “We weren’t connecting the dots early, we weren’t at the right tempo and we got a little ahead of ourselves. We didn’t get hurt too much in the first and that gave us a chance to regroup. But we can’t wait that late to fire on all cylinders.”
Notes & quotes: Adam Clendening, a healthy scratch for the previous seven games, stepped in for defenseman Dan Girardi, who was rested as a preventive measure because of his groin injury earlier this season. Clendening was credited with an assist on Buchnevich’s goal.