At least not until the final period, when everything was on the line.
It was then, with the Washington Capitals ahead by a goal, that they responded with two power-play goals for a 5-4 victory.
"We played with the passion that won the Cup," said Rangers coach Colin Campbell, summing up New York's third period.
He may be right. But the Rangers also had a lot of help in this come-from-behind victory that was won on Brian Leetch's first goal of the season.
On a night when Washington finally got its offense and its power play going, the Capitals, in coach Jim Schoenfeld's words, "took three stupid penalties" and blew a 4-3 lead in the final 16 minutes.
"This is probably the most upset I've been," said Schoenfeld. "It's disappointing because we look at our effort as an intelligent effort and tonight it wasn't. We took three stupid penalties, three totally avoidable penalties, that cost us dearly.
"It's a shame that some members of our team left their brains in the dressing room and everyone else who played well has to suffer for it."
Schoenfeld wouldn't name names or penalties. But there was a bench penalty for too many men on the ice that resulted in the Rangers' first goal, making it 2-1. And there was a holding-the-stick penalty on defenseman Sylvain Cote with 1:42 left in the second period that resulted in a power-play goal that evened the score at 3-3 with three seconds left in the period.
Finally, and perhaps the most disastrous because it was the lastwas a two-minute elbowing penalty on Rob Pearson with 5:59 left and the score tied at 4.
"I was just doing my job," said Pearson of the elbow he leveled aEd Olczyk. "He dumped the puck and I hit him. We buried ourselves tonight and that's it."
The fact that Olczyk lay motionless on the ice for several minutes after the hit didn't improve the situation.
It was an amazing turnaround for New York (4-5-1), which had looked exactly like the struggling Capitals (2-6-1) through the first two periods.
Looking at a mirror image, Washington had no trouble competing. The Caps produced four goals by Joe Reekie, Dimitri Khristich and Peter Bondra, who had two.
Three of the four came on the previously disappointing power play.
But instead of the improved offense bringing victory, it was let down by penalties against a team that had the NHL's second-best power-play unit even before it scored four extra-man goals last night.
"Penalties are part of the game," said veteran Caps center Dave Poulin. "We, the penalty-killing unit, didn't do the job. The last two goals were down low and we weren't able to get the puck out.
"The game was on the line, that's when you want to be out there. This should have been the night to thrive, but we didn't pick up the men coming down the ice."
The result was that the sellout crowd of 18,200 at Madison Square Garden went home happy.
The winning power-play goal came with 4:19 left, when Brian Leetch sent the puck between Rangers center Sergi Nemchinov and Caps defenseman Jim Johnson for his first goal of the season.
"We just fell into their hands with all those power plays," said Washington goalie Rick Tabaracci, who made 32 saves. "We had the lead and were looking down the homestretch, but we took bad penalties. It's time we all looked straight in the mirror."
Twelve minutes earlier, Washington had taken a 4-3 lead on Bondra's second power-play goal of the night.
With Dale Hunter grinding away in New York goalie Mike Richter's face, Calle Johansson teed off on a pass from John Slaney and Bondra directed the blast into the net.
But on a night with seven power-play goals, the Rangers responded in kind. At 8:23, Mark Messier took a shot that hit the post and bounced to Sergei Zubov. He slammed it under a sprawling Tabaracci to tie it at 4.
"We gave up a couple on the power play, so we needed a couple back on the power play," said Messier. "We got a little more pressure on the net and looked for a good shot."
Washington .. ..1 ..2 ..1 ..-- ..4
N.Y. Rangers ...0 ..3 ..2 ..-- ..5