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NEW YORK - They scored early, blew the lead nearly as fast and fell behind, but ultimately the New York Rangers came back to earn a much-needed win Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
The win left often acerbic coach John Tortorella -- called a "CLOWN" who should be fired by former Ranger Steve Avery via Twitter last weekend -- in a good enough mood to crack jokes, even when they were of the gallows humor kind.
More importantly, Tortorella said after Derek Stepan scored two goals and captain Ryan Callahan had a momentum-turning shorthanded goal and two assists in the 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets, New York showed some resiliency.
"It certainly didn't help us because we winded up getting smoked the rest of the period," Tortorella said, drawing laughter when asked what it meant for Stepan to score 11 seconds into the game after the Rangers had been shut out in back-to-back games.
Tortorella laughed himself as he added, "It was good to score. I don't know what to say.
"I think they have confidence; it's just when something doesn't go right for them in the game ... we've lost some of that quick resiliency," Tortorella said in a more serious moment. "Maybe tonight they got some of that back ... Hopefully for us this is a step in the right direction."
The Rangers (17-15-3), who also got a goal and an assist from Rick Nash and some big saves from Henrik Lundqvist, got within two points of the seventh-place New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference as the Devils lost to the Islanders. But the Isles' victory left the Rangers tied in points with the Islanders.
The Jets (18-17-2), who lost their third straight game to start a three-game road trip, need to head in the right direction themselves now. Winnipeg remained atop the Southeast division, four points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes, who lost to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.
Nik Antropov scored his fifth goal of the year and Zach Bogosian notched his third of the season for the Jets. Winnipeg also lost defenseman Grant Clitsome in the first period after he was struck on his eye, under his visor, by teammate Alexander Burmistrov's stick. Coach Claude Noel said Clitsome was day to day, and would be evaluated, but thought he would be OK.
Veteran forward Olli Jokinen said the Jets had to challenge themselves going forward.
"As a team, we have to make the decision, whether we want to be there or not," Jokinen said after notching an assist. "We still own our own fate, but at the same time, we can't wait for the last five games.
"I think, absolutely," Jokinen said, when asked if the Jets were a playoff team.
The Rangers tied the game 2-2 in the second on Callahan's shorthanded goal after Winnipeg failed to convert on a 5-on-3, and New York went up in the third on Stepan's second goal.
The Rangers' challenge to prove they are a playoff team grows stronger Wednesday.
That's when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners of 15 straight and closing in on an NHL-record 17-game winning streak, owned by the 1992-93 Penguins. The Rangers then head to Pittsburgh on Friday to finish off the home-and-home.
"Just got to bring the same energy to our next game," said Callahan, who tied the game 2-2 with a shorthanded backhand shot at 3:11 of the second for his 10th goal of the season.
Said Nash, who added an insurance goal at 13:07 of the third: "No excuses. We're a desperate team right now. We need wins, so we have no choice."
Stepan scored his second goal of the game and 12th of the season at 5:46 of the third period to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead. The center poked in a rebound past goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31 saves) from the side of the net off of Anton Stralman's slap shot.
But both teams pointed to Callahan's shorthanded backhander to tie the game as the turning point.
"I think we lost momentum, there's no doubt about it, after the 5-on-3 that we had for a short period of time, certainly we had trouble recovering from that goal," Noel said. "And we couldn't regenerate anything for the remainder of the second period."
The Jets did a better job recovering early, answering Stepan's first goal with one from Antropov less than a minute later on a one-timer to tie the game 1-1.
Bogosian's slap shot, which deflected off a Rangers defender and Lundqivst, then gave Winnipeg a 2-1 lead at 12:54 of the first.
Notes: Mats Zuccarello was called for three of the Rangers' four penalties in the second period, but Lundqvist (26 saves) continued to fend off the Jets' shots, helping the penalty-killing unit escape unscathed as the teams headed for the third period. ... Jokinen entered the game needing one goal to hit the 300 mark for his career. ... The Rangers signed defenseman Tommy Hughes, from the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Hughes, 20, recorded 16 points, including one goal, for London. ... Callahan on Sunday addressed Avery's tweet calling for the Rangers to dump Tortorella as the Blueshirts continued to struggle with back-to-back shutout losses Thursday and Saturday. The former Ranger, who had run-ins with Tortorella in the past, tweeted after the Rangers' 3-0 loss to Montreal on Saturday, "FIRE this CLOWN, his players hate him and wont play for his BS...." Callahan responded with a statement saying, "Sean Avery's comments solely represent his own thoughts and opinions. He did not speak for us as a team when he was here and certainly does not now."