It certainly has to be taken into account that the three straight games the Rangers had won entering Sunday night’s contest with the Penguins in Pittsburgh had come against a pair of reeling teams in the Buffalo Sabres and the New Jersey Devils.
Even considering the opposition, though, the fact is the Rangers are beginning to look more and more like the team they expected to be going into the season — a youthful group with enough talent to challenge for a playoff spot in the rugged East Division.
The team played again Sunday without Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin, who missed his seventh game since taking a leave from the team two weeks ago, following the publication of an article in Russia in which a former KHL coach of his accused the 29-year-old forward of beating a woman after a game in Latvia in 2011.
But even without Panarin, and with goaltender Igor Shesterkin now sidelined with a groin injury, the Rangers are getting closer to whole, as players are returning to the lineup who have been out for varying reasons.
Kaapo Kakko, who missed six games while on the COVID-19 list, was a force when he returned against the Devils on Saturday, and Filip Chytil was dynamic in that game, as well, with a goal, an assist and several other positive plays in his third game back from a hand injury that kept him out for five weeks.
Next up was defenseman Jacob Trouba, who returned to active duty Sunday night after missing eight games with a broken thumb. Trouba had been out since suffering the injury in a Feb. 16 game against the Devils, and the team initially said he would be out 4-6 weeks.
"You want to continue to gain momentum and continue to move forward,’’ Quinn said after the 6-3 win over the Devils Saturday. "Hopefully we can get a couple more guys back, here, and play close to full strength.’’
Entering Sunday, the Rangers (10-9-3) had won six of their last eight games to close to within four points of the final playoff position in the division. And a number of players — Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, Pavel Buchnevich and Alexis Lafreniere— seemed to be clicking at the same time.
"Last year we had so many threats,’’ said Strome, who had two goals Saturday and had four goals and seven assists in his last eight games entering Sunday. "And unfortunately, early [this] year there was a lot of guys kind of in the same boat: Pucks weren't going in, and we weren't really finding ways to you know get that big moment in the game. I think now we're getting it from a lot of guys.
"I think it's tough for other teams to match up against that,’’ he said. "When you're getting contributions all over the lineup, I think the other coaches are looking at our lines and they don't really know what to do sometimes, because we have multiple threats.’’
Whether they ultimately have enough to finish in the top four in the East remains to be seen. There is still the matter of getting Mika Zibanejad to snap out of his season-long slump. But going 4-2 without Panarin heading into Sunday bodes well for how good the team will be when he returns.
"Obviously, we have some guys out still, and when those guys get back they're going to help us,’’ Strome said. "It's not going to one guy, or one line every night, and I think that's the way you got to win hockey games; you need everyone on your team.’’
They’re inching closer to having everyone back.