NEW YORK – With the Rangers down to their final breath, their captain returned into the lineup with a flourish. The kind of flourish not seen for 365 days.
Chris Drury, out 27 games with left knee surgery and playing in only his 24th game of an injury-marred season, scored for the first time since April 9, 2010, and captained the Rangers to a 5-2 win over the Devils (37-39-5).
Paired with a 6-2 win by Tampa Bay over ninth-place Carolina (40-31-11), the Rangers advanced into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and will face top-seeded Washington in the first round of the playoffs that begin next week.
“I can’t really explain what the bench was like when Dru scored,” said Rangers forward Brian Boyle. “So happy for the guy. He’s our leader, he came out and he did just that tonight. We rallied around him.”
“That is good stuff. I’m so happy for him,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said about Drury. “He catches more [expletive] out here, all different ways. I couldn’t be happier, and more prouder of him as far as how he handled himself. That’s, that’s really good stuff.”
Drury said he late yesterday that he would play, and got clearance from the doctors shortly after. His goal in the first period tied the game just 1:11 after Nick Palmieri gave New Jersey an early lead.
“It was huge. Can’t say enough about Dru and his character,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “To stick through a tough injury, a tough surgery, when we needed him most, he came through. “Captain Clutch”, isn’t that his nickname?”
“He’s well respected. Dru’s not a holler guy in the room, he leads by example,” Tortorella said of his captain. “I think when you look at him, how hard he’s worked with a chronic knee here, I think the same thing goes for Prospal, how hard he worked to get back. I think that just adds something to your locker room. He’s just so well-respected by his teammates.”
“It was great to see Dru back, had a good feeling about him when I saw him before the game,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “I didn’t tell him anything, but I had a feeling he was going to score today. I’m really happy for him, and he deserves a lot of credit for sticking with it.”
McDonagh’s first NHL goal is Playoff-Clincher
When the rookie defenseman scored from the right circle in the second period, it gave the Rangers (44-33-5) a 3-2 lead, and ended up as the game-winning goal. But after the puck hit twine, his mind went blank. After the game, he said he had no idea what happened next.
What happened, was one of the best goal celebrations a Rangers skater has displayed all season. McDonagh leaped off the ice a couple of times, and thrusted his arms outward towards his exulting teammates.
“It’s a good feeling,” said McDonagh. “I’ve been thinking about on the side for a while now, when it was going to come. Glad it turned out to be the game-winner and that it helped the guys get two points today.”
McDonagh has quickly become one of the Rangers’ top four defensemen after being called up from Hartford in January.
“He’s a guy that did his time down in the minor league team, struggled at first down there, and has slowly come along,” Tortorella said. “It’s a great deal we made to get him. Him and Sauer, two very important pieces as we continue to build. Good for him scoring his first one at a big time.”
Tortorella Blasts Tiebreaker Rules
The Rangers’ bench boss blasted the NHL’s tiebreaker scenarios after the Rangers’ 5-2 win over New Jersey. Thanks to Tampa Bay’s 6-2 win over Carolina, the Rangers ended up clinching the eighth seed, making Tortorella’s complains temporarily mute.
Teams tied in points at the end of the regular season had the tie broken by regulation and overtime wins. Wins earned in the shootout – of which the Rangers had nine – would not have counted in the tiebreaker, meaning the Rangers, who finished the regular season with 44 wins, would have lost the tiebreaker with Carolina, who ultimately finished with only 40 wins – 35 of them in regulation and overtime.
“I’m pissed off. Not at you guys, I’m pissed off at the whole circumstance here,” Tortorella said during the waiting period between the Rangers win and Hurricanes loss.
“I’ve kept my mouth shut through it all, and listen – understand me, I know we make our own bed in losing a little consistency, especially at the end of the year, losing a few clunkers. That falls on us. But I just don’t get it. I don’t get it. 44 wins to 41, maybe, and we’re picking our ass somewhere when we should be in the playoffs. I don’t get it.”
“It’s too bad because if you look at our record with 44 wins, you would think that has to put you in the playoffs,” said an agitated Vinny Prospal after the Rangers finished their final game. “I don’t get this. The other team cannot have more points than us. So, what the f— is the shootout for, then?”
“It’s a little frustrating, in how this is played out,” Tortorella said. “First of all, our inconsistency put us in a spot losing control, but it’s frustrating when you end up with 44 wins, and a team that may have 41 gets in and you don’t. I guess I’ll leave it at that. I have quite a few thoughts as far as how this could happen.”
Fortunately for the Rangers, it didn’t turn out that way when Carolina got blasted for three goals in the first period.