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 in home records.
Vinny Prospal had little to celebrate, either. He hadn't scored since Nov. 21 - a 14-game stretch.
Both of those slides halted last night; Prospal buried two wristers past Florida's Tomas Vokoun and Chris Drury scored his third goal in four games and stripped the puck that led to Marian Gaborik's shorthander. Toss in Henrik Lundqvist's 30 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 on a power play when Ryan Callahan kicked the puck out to him from a scrum 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.
Prospal, who signed a one-year contract after being wooed by John 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.
"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 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 Rangers' 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."