When your worst skid of the season coincides with a hard charge by the Pittsburgh Penguins that threatens the big lead you've built over the long season, it is hard to keep out the doubt.
The Rangers needed nearly every second Sunday night to beat the New York Islanders 4-3 in overtime, snap a three-game regulation losing streak, and maintain a four-point lead over the surging Penguins, who are closing in on the Broadway Blueshirts atop the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.
Marian Gaborik scored the Rangers' third power-play goal in the dying seconds of overtime for New York, which erased three one-goal deficits and won the opener of a seven-game homestand.
''We talked about how important this one was,'' Gaborik said. ''We had a pretty good game in Chicago (on Friday), but we came up short. Tonight we played a good game.''
Gaborik finished it with his team-leading 33rd goal, off an assist from Brad Richards, who scored two of the Rangers' three power-play goals. Brian Boyle also added a goal.
With the Madison Square Garden crowd imploring the Rangers to ''Shoot the puck,'' Gaborik snapped a rising shot over goalie Evgeni Nabokov's right shoulder to win it at 4:54.
The Rangers held a 36-19 shots advantage, but escaped by the slimmest of margins. Henrik Lundqvist kept the game alive with a key stop against Frans Nielsen a couple of minutes into overtime.
Richards has 21 goals and 29 assists in his first season with the Rangers, who will count on his scoring touch to make a deep run in the upcoming playoffs.
''The production sometimes doesn't come, but I just feel better seeing the ice,'' said Richards, who reached 20 goals for the ninth time. Tonight some things just happened to me and I got rewarded. It gets your confidence up.''
That is exactly what the Rangers need overall and on their recently sluggish power play. New York and Pittsburgh both have 14 games remaining, including a matchup at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
''The thing I like most about it is the way we won,'' Rangers coach John Tortorella said. ''You don't want to draw it up that way, but the things that we're going through as a team - even through this game with some of the bounces - just to keep a hold of ourselves and stay with it. We needed every last second to finally win the game.''
John Tavares, Matt Moulson and defenseman Andrew MacDonald had goals for the Islanders, who absorbed their second painful loss in two days. They led New Jersey 1-0 with 1:39 remaining Saturday, but gave up a pair of goals 14 seconds apart and lost 2-1.
''This was a very tough loss,'' said Nielsen, who remained down on the ice for a few moments after Gaborik's winner. ''They outworked us when it counted. That's the bottom line. We have to be better. We made some good plays but not enough good plays.''
The Rangers had scored only one power-play goal in eight games. They tied it the last time at 3:29 of the third when Boyle tipped Ryan McDonagh's shot from the left point past Nabokov. Boyle's sixth goal snapped a 15-game drought.
The Islanders carried a 3-2 lead into the period after a back-and-forth second in which they scored twice against Lundqvist on seven shots.
Moulson gave the Islanders their second lead of the night at 7:44 of the second with the benefit of a bounce off the glass behind the Rangers' net. The puck caromed back out in front to the left post, where Moulson was stationed. He got just enough of the puck and nudged it off the skate of Lundqvist and in for his 29th goal.
The Islanders took advantage of a 4-minute, high-sticking call against Derek Stepan, who clipped P.A. Parenteau in the mouth. The Rangers, who were 13 seconds away from killing it off, protested the extra penalty because Parenteau didn't appear to bleed.
The Rangers got that one back on Richards' second power-play goal. He took a pass from Marian Gaborik at the left point and fired a shot that got through a screen in front by Boyle and eluded Nabokov. The feisty Islanders goalie played a major role in setting up that goal because it was his high-sticking penalty on Mike Rupp that produced the power play.
Just over a minute later, the Rangers went back on the power play, but it was the Islanders who reaped the reward. After serving a holding penalty, MacDonald came out of the box and was sent in alone on Lundqvist with a long lead pass from Tavares. MacDonald skated in, patiently waited, and put a shot in for his fifth of the season - giving the Islanders their third lead of the game with 35.3 seconds left in the second.
''Those things are happening and probably will continue for a little bit,'' Tortorella said. ''I'm just glad the way the team stayed together, didn't panic, and just kept on grinding away and found a way to win.''
The Islanders had a 3-2 lead despite being outshot 24-12 through 40 minutes. The Rangers held 13-7 edge in the second period, but were outscored 2-1.
''It's very frustrating,'' said Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic, who had two assists. ''I thought we played a good game but we couldn't get it done in the end.''
Notes: Nabokov was also given a penalty for roughing after he punched Brandon Prust behind the net as the second period ended. Islanders goalies had only four total penalty minutes this season. ... Islanders D Mark Eaton sat out because of back spasms. ... The Rangers were without captain Ryan Callahan (bruised foot) and D Michael Del Zotto (hip). C Brandon Dubinsky (sinus injury) returned after missing two games, and Mats Zuccarello was recalled from Connecticut of the AHL.