"Sweet Home Alabama" was blasting. Laughter emerged from corners of the dressing room usually vacated quickly after a loss. And embattled goalie Henrik Lundqvist never took off the Broadway Hat, awarded for his 35-save performance in a 3-2 victory over the Blackhawks, as if it could bring back some old black magic.
Compared to most postgame scenes this season, the mood was much lighter at the United Center after the Rangers stunned the defending Stanley Cup champs on their own turf Wednesday.
Who could blame him? In a season of adjustments to a new coaching staff and system, the Rangers had earned a mini-celebration. It was only the second time an Eastern Conference team had knocked off the potent Hawks, and the regulation loss snapped a 10-game span in which they had earned at least a point.
"It's a good thing that we can go into this building and just play our game and get rewarded," said Lundqvist (3-1-1 in his last five starts), who hoped the win would help turn the team's fortunes. "It's been some tough stretches. You need to use it as a building block, that when you do the right things, it's going to pay off."
On Friday, the Blueshirts (22-20-3, 6-2-1 in the last nine) begin a four-game homestand against the Stars, who had lost three straight and played the Devils on Thursday. The matchup presents an opportunity to move three games above .500 for the first time this season and sets up a potential showdown for second place in the Metropolitan Division with the Flyers on Sunday.
"We all understand the importance of every game right now," Lundqvist said. "You can't just snap your fingers and get it done, you have to work really hard . . . The last few weeks, step by step, I'm starting to be more consistent."
Toss out the 5-2 loss to the Penguins, filled with defensive breakdowns, and Lundqvist has allowed nine goals in his last four starts. He did lose the angle on a short-side, game-tying goal from Chicago's Brendan Bollig in the second period, but rallied to stop the next 15 shots. "I felt it was really important after they tied it up to stay focused and not let them get that third one," he said. "We settled things down and that was key."
Notes & quotes: In his Rangers debut, Daniel Carcillo played 4:14 in the first and just four shifts after that. J.T. Miller, scratched for Carcillo, may play against the Stars and Carcillo could return against one of his former teams, the Flyers, on Sunday . . . Defenseman Michael Del Zotto recorded an assist for the third game in a row, his longest point streak of the season, but trade rumors continue.