NEW YORK – The last week has not been the easiest of times for the New York Rangers.
Between incessant and sometimes ridiculous trade rumors, and their worst stretch – one win, two losses, and a shootout loss – since the first three games of the season, the Rangers (39-15-6, 84 pts, 1st in East) needed to regain some of that confidence that comes with being among the NHL’s elite.
So, when Ryan Callahan deked around Patrick Kaleta and wristed the puck past Ryan Miller 2:59 into overtime, the celebration became a release of pent up frustration that has been mounting from the hiccup that has become the past nine days.
“I just loved his celebration,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said of his captain’s glee upon scoring the game-winning goal. “That’s what I enjoyed most about it was the celebration. Good for him. It’s a big win for us, just to try to gain some momentum.”
After giving the Rangers a hard-earned 3-2 win over Buffalo (27-27-8, 62 pts, 11th in East), Callahan outstretched his arms and skated towards the adoring sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden, appearing to soak in as much madness as he could from the 18,200.
“We haven’t been playing our best hockey of late,” Callahan said of his team’s second real slump of the season. “We gotta get back on track with that. Tonight showed that. We played the full 60 minutes, we were physical from the start. That’s a big thing for this team. If we’re hitting and pressuring, that’s when we’re playing at our best.”
“We’ve got a good group that’s struggling a little bit in the details of our game,” Tortorella said before the game. “But, it’s Game 60 and we’re talking about these struggles [for the first time]. I’m pretty happy that it’s taken this long to talk about this stuff. I know the leadership of the team is there, I don’t have a worry at all as far as how they handle this type of situation.”
The Rangers, who got a point in the shootout last night against the Islanders, started the season 0-2-1 before turning their fortunes around. They’ve lost two consecutive games in regulation only once since, in December.
“We were just happy with – not looking at the result – just how we played in the first. There was more of a sense of calmness after the first, that’s how we’re supposed to play. We got it back,” said Brad Richards, who had an assist and led the Rangers with 5 shots. “We wanted this bad. We’ve been a little bit all over the map last couple of weeks.”
“We get down early in the third period, you don’t want to script it this way as far as a win,” Tortorella said. “It turns out to be a good way to win.”
The players have tried not to talk about the trade deadline, but it’s on everyone’s mind – perhaps no one more than Brandon Dubinsky, who has consistently been rumored to be on the move if the Rangers indeed consummate a deal with Columbus for Rick Nash.
“Everyone’s excited for [Monday] to be over and done with,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “At the same time, it’s nice as a team to have the confidence to get a big win.”
“Management’s going to do what they have to do and we’re going to control what we can on the ice,” Callahan said. “We’ve won a lot of games this year, so this group in here is doing pretty well.”
Sometimes it takes an overtime winner from their captain to remember that. Win No. 39 wasn’t just good for the body, it was good for the mind too.
Staal played 22:36 in possibly his best game since returning from a concussion on Jan. 2. He said he continues to feel better, and has felt especially better over the last couple weeks.
Callahan’s goal was his 100th of his career. It was also his 24th of the season, which is a new career high.
The Rangers are seven points ahead of second-place Boston, and nine points ahead of Pittsburgh, second in the Atlantic.