The Rangers' captain was almost speechless, as if he were trying to catch his breath after a sprint.
"A real gut-check for everybody," Ryan McDonagh said after scoring twice as the Rangers came back from three two-goal deficits to stun the Islanders, 6-5, in an insanely entertaining game at Nassau Coliseum Monday night. "We just told ourselves we've got to find a way . . . It's not the way we want to play, having to crawl back, but great job by everybody, sticking with it, sticking together, doing it as a team. There were too many turning points to pick one."
McDonagh's point shot through traffic pulled the Rangers within 2-1 at 14:35 of the first period at a time when the Islanders were running the Blueshirts out to Hempstead Turnpike, with 20 shots in the first 15 minutes.
"Mac's goal in the first was huge," said Derek Stepan, who had three points, including the goal that brought the Rangers within 5-4 at 6:25 of the third. "Cam [Talbot] stood tall and we were able to come out of a period where we really got our butts kicked just down one."
McDonagh's seventh goal of the season also was a big one. His shot was deflected by Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and pulled the Rangers into a 3-3 tie in the second period. That came only 23 seconds after a goal by the Rangers' Chris Kreider.
"I want to get shots," McDonagh said. "We wanted to make it more difficult on [Jaroslav] Halak tonight than in other past games. He's been a big difference in why we haven't been able to beat them in the past. We talked about getting in front of the net and making it tough on him, make him fight through screens. We were a lot hungrier in front of him for sure."
McDonagh's hunger has led to 19 points (seven goals and 12 assists) since he returned to the lineup on Nov. 28 after missing 11 games with a separated shoulder.
But his first career two-goal game and sixth goal in six games almost went for naught. Fellow defenseman Kevin Klein's goal at 15:28, the game-winner and the only time the Rangers led all evening, was the final turning point.
"It was big for us to go ahead there," McDonagh said. "You never know what can happen if it gets to overtime."
Stepan knew it almost did get there.
"Seems like every time we play these guys, it's a goofy game," he said. "We had our pushes, they had theirs, they hit the pipe what, 40 seconds left? I'm sure it was a fun game to watch. Not sure the coaches think that way."
In the big picture, McDonagh said, the fourth straight victory for the Rangers -- who have scored at least five goals in four consecutive road games for the first time since 1981 -- was more vital than the previous three on the road "because they're ahead of us in the division."
That lead is down to two points, and the Rangers have two games in hand. The Rangers have 27 games remaining, the Islanders 25. They play each other at the Coliseum for the final time in the regular season on March 10. But for the first time, the Rangers know they can beat a team that outscored them 13-4 in the first three meetings.