After Henrik Lundqvist and his teammates bounced back from a modest slump by shutting out the Nashville Predators, New York Rangers owner James Dolan decided to say what's been on his mind for a while: his club is Stanley Cup title material.
''We're pretty close to getting that back,'' Dolan said after the Rangers beat Nashville 3-0 Tuesday night.
Lundqvist made 27 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, and New York ended the Predators' winning streak at five games. It was an impressive performance by the Rangers, who lost two of three before tipping a close game their way in the second period. Lundqvist made some big saves, and the Rangers got a goal from John Mitchell, who has been given more ice time in the last few weeks.
After the game, Dolan and coach John Tortorella walked into the postgame news conference together and, laughing, Dolan accepted Tortorella's invitation to talk to the media. He told a story about a pact he made with president and general manager Glen Sather in 2004, when the Rangers decided to stop trying to sign high-priced free agents and instead build around young players through the draft.
''I'm very proud of the organization,'' Dolan said. ''I'm particularly proud of Mr. Sather.''
Although Tortorella was laughing, he clearly didn't want to discuss anything but the next game or two, and with reason. New York leads the NHL with 62 points, three ahead of second-place Boston in the Eastern Conference. The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Bruins are up next on the schedule.
He debunked the notion that the Rangers were closing in on their first championship since 1994.
''I had my owner up here talking about winning a Stanley Cup,'' Tortorella said. ''We have to take it one game at a time.''
The Predators, who beat the New York Islanders 3-1 on Monday, have won eight of 10. The Rangers had lost two of three entering Tuesday's game following a five-game winning streak, and still haven't quite broken out of a scoring slump. New York has averaged about two goals in 12 games since Christmas.
Lundqvist was the goalie in New York's last two losses, and Tortorella described him as ''itching to go.''
''In Montreal, there were a lot of shots right in front, and maybe I was not as aggressive as I wanted to be,'' Lundqvist said. ''I tried to correct that tonight and be more active. I play very deep, so I need to be active when I play.''
Mitchell scored midway through the second period and defenseman Dan Girardi had a goal in the first when what appeared to be a pass went off Nashville defenseman Jack Hillen and fluttered in behind backup goalie Anders Lindback, who was moving left to right across the crease.
''I thought Lindy gave us a real good game,'' Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. ''I said to our guys, we didn't really take a step backward, even though we lost the game. I thought we stacked up quite well against the Rangers.''
Ryan Callahan was awarded a goal when he dived to try to knock the puck into the empty net in the final minute, and Martin Erat dived on top of him.
Fans chanted ''Hen-rik!'' several times, none louder than just before the final minute, when Nashville had to take its timeout. Lundqvist didn't need to make another stop to finish his 39th NHL shutout.
Mitchell also scored New York's goal in a 4-1 loss in Montreal on Sunday.
On Tuesday, he skated into the corner, drew defenseman Francis Bouillon with him, hit the brakes, popped back out, and was alone to fire a shot past Lindback's short side at 10:42 of the second. Lindback, the backup to Pekka Rinne, made 25 saves.
That came shortly after several minutes of end-to-end hockey. Immediately after the goal, Nashville turned up the pressure, and Lundqvist made three quick saves during a chaotic couple of minutes.
''We got into a little track meet there in the second period,'' Tortorella said. ''Henrik made some great saves.''
The Rangers missed an opportunity to add on when Martin Erat was sent off for running into Lundqvist near the end of the period. Just 17 seconds into the power play, Marian Gaborik was given four minutes for high-sticking, but the Rangers killed it off with a grinding third period.
''We played a really good game,'' Lundqvist said. "I didn't have to do a lot, a couple saves here or there.''
NOTES: Nashville has been perfect on the penalty kill in 10 of 12 games. ... Rangers F Carl Hagelin was stuffed three times by Lindback in the first period. The last one, just before the period ended, came when the rookie couldn't get much on a pass and floated the puck harmlessly on net. ... Nashville lost in regulation at the Rangers for the third time in nine games. ... It was Mitchell's fourth goal of the season. He was recalled from Connecticut of the AHL on Nov. 24.