The calendar says March 21st, the weather and atmosphere around Madison Square Garden feels about three weeks further along in the year. While the playoffs don’t start for another 21 days, tonight’s match-up against the perennial play-off bound Original Six Detroit Red Wings it had that playoff feel.
The Rangers enter the game trying to stave off an amazing push by the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well the Philadelphia Flyers for the number one spot in Atlantic as well as number one overall in the East.
The Rangers enter the game in relatively good health, getting Artem Anisimov back in the lineup after after missing two games with a banged-up shoulder. Anisimov’s health led to an interesting game time decision
for coach John Tortorella as Connecticut Whale call up Matts Zuccarello has played well, thus making Ruslan Fedotenko a healthy scratch.
The Wings on the other hand enter tonight’s game winless in their last five games. They were without the services of both their number one and two goalies as Jimmy Howard and Joey MacDonald are out with injuries. Ty Conklin cleared waivers earlier in the day and was in nets for the Wings. Captain Nicklas Lindstrom remained sidelined with an ankle injury.Two other defenseman Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson and center Johan Franzen were also out of the lineup with injuries. Where have we seen this before ? Can you say trap game ?
The Blackhawks came into MSG last month winless in their last nine. Much like the Blackhawk game the opposition outplayed the Rangers early on and got an early soft goal on weak 40-foot wrist shot that went five hole between Henrik Lundqvist’s pads for Zetterberg’s 19th of the season at 3:36 of the first.
If the Ranger fans had playoffs on their minds so did the Red Wings fans in attendance as an octopus made it’s way onto the ice in celebration of Zetterberg’s goal.
Unlike the Chicago game, the Rangers found their game and their legs at around the 10 minute mark of the first period tonight. The Wings would give the Rangers a power play opportunity at 14:30 of the first as they had too many men on the ice. Brad Richards would seize that opportunity by going coast to coast 28 seconds later and putting the puck between Ty Conklin’s legs at the for his 24th goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1 which is how the score remained after the first period.
Whatever playoff atmosphere there might have been seemed to vanish in the second period. While the Rangers seemed to use their speed to gain the zone with more ease, they seemed more intent on passing then shooting the puck. The physical play that has been a trademark of this year’s team was non-existent in the second period. Both teams seemed content on playing the game between the bluelines and both teams managed only six shots on goal in the period. The two teams combined for nine hits in the second period, six by the Rangers and three by the Red Wings. It may have been the single most nondescript period of the season for the Rangers.
A key point in the game was Marc Staal’s defense on a 2-on-1 break, which earned him the Broadway Hat. When asked after the game what his mindset on a play like that, Staal responded by saying, “I’ve got to make sure he doesn’t make the pass is basically my only thought. As soon as he got it he was kind of looking over the whole time. I don’t think he looked at the net once, so I just tried to take away as much ice as I could.”
Coach Tortorella pointed to the play as well in the post game. “I thought the biggest play in the game was Stalsies 2-on-1 play, where they come down the ice and get nothing out of it,” Tortorella said.
The third period also lacked the physical play of the first and over the first 13 minutes the Rangers outshot the Red Wings 8-2, prompting the first Let’s Go Rangers Chant from a pretty lackluster crowd.
The Wings came on strong towards the waning minutes of regulation and came inches from going ahead on a shot that rang of the cross bar from defenseman Doug Janek.
The best player on the ice by far was Ryan Callahan who blocked several shots and created several scoring opportunities. His coach echoed that sentiment by saying, “I think Ryan Callahan was our best player in the third period. I think he was our best player period.”
When asked why this game lacked the physicality of the previous Devils game, Marc Staal commented, “It’s a different style of game obviously with Detroit. They love having the puck and making plays. I still think we forechecked hard. They don’t put themselves in a position to be hit.”
Tortorella added, “Even with the guys they have out, they have some pretty skilled guys there that can hurt you. They’re tough to get to. In the east you play a lot straight lines and a straight ahead game butnot with this team. You’ll be taking interference calls all night long if you try and hit them.”
The game would head to overtime, and it’s only fitting that the player who the coach said was the best player on the ice would get the game winner at 2:42 of the extra session. When reminded that he said he couldn’t have his 100th goal better then the way he scored it, Callahan said, “Yeah it was good. It was a good game, a good two points and a good way to finish it.”
Those two points give the Rangers 99 on the season and push their lead over the idle Pens to three points.