ANAHEIM, Calif. - Playing the NHL-leading Ducks, according to many Rangers, would be a yardstick at this point in their season.
But Blueshirts coach Alain Vigneault said before Wednesday night's game that the Ducks also might be measuring themselves against the Rangers, who had won 10 of 11 games.
In any case, based on the evidence from Wednesday night, the two teams are certainly close. But the Rangers, with three third-period goals, emerged from Honda Center with their third consecutive win with a hard-fought 4-1 victory.
Derick Brassard, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Dominic Moore scored and Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves as the Rangers raced to their 11th win in 12 games.
Anaheim (26-10-6) has 58 points; the Rangers (22-11-4) have 48.
"We have confidence in our room right now; when we play our best, it's hard to play against us, too." Zuccarello said. "We're blocking shots, sacrificing ourselves, the defense did a heckuva job getting pucks out, just a solid team effort."
In a fast-paced game in which plays were broken up and shots were deflected continuously, Brassard gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with a blast from the point that eluded Ilya Bryzgalov at 9:10 of the second period on a delayed penalty.
Early in the third period, Sami Vatanen's attempted clear was stopped by Kevin Klein, whose shot was tipped by Nash and only partially stopped by Bryzgalov's stick as the puck popped past him at 2:32. It was the 25th goal for Nash, who leads all players in games with a goal (20).
With Derek Stepan penalized for delay of game at 9:59 of the third period, the Ducks converted 10 seconds later. Francois Beauchemin's long shot ticked off Carl Hagelin and flew past Lundqvist to make it 2-1.
The Rangers were 15-0-1 when leading after two periods, and when Zuccarello, off Beauchemin's turnover under pressure from Nash, fired a slapper from the right dot off Bryzgalov's shoulder for a 3-1 lead at 14:27, they figured to continue that streak. It was Zuccarello's first goal in 10 games. The lead was extended when Dominic Moore scored into an empty net at 17:46.
"The way we responded to their goal, that's impressive to see," Lundqvist said. "We really stepped up, and our third goal was so big, it just killed their momentum."
Said Nash: "We're just playing our style and we're not hurting ourselves. Classic West-style game. Chip and chase. Special teams were big. The second period we turned the puck over a bit too much, but at the end of the day, Hank played a great game and we got the bounces at the end."
It was quite a difference from the 6-0 blowout by the Ducks last season in the Blueshirts' lone visit to Honda Center.
Bryzgalov was a surprise starter for the Ducks. The former Flyer signed a one-year contract on Dec. 9, and his only previous start was against Ottawa on Dec. 19, a 6-2 loss. No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen was rested.
Lundqvist rescued the Rangers in the first period with saves on Vatanen and Rene Bourque. He jumped to deny a shot from the left circle with his shoulder and then stopped Pat Maroon from about 12 feet after Dan Girardi's turnover.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau was impressed with the Rangers. "They're really good." he said. "There's no doubt that their speed is very good. The structure of their game is very good.
"They will be a tough team to beat playing like that."