NEW YORK – The Rangers may be at their best when the game gets some snarl into it.
On Saturday night against Montreal, things got mean-spirited just over four minutes into the contest when Mike Blunden came off the bench and drilled Brandon Dubinsky in the neutral zone. As Dubinsky got up, captain Ryan Callahan challenged Blunden, defenseman Mike Sauer fought Petteri Nokelainen, and Dubinsky engaged with Hal Gill.
“Once that fight happened, it bought some energy to our team,” said Michael Del Zotto, who scored the Rangers’ third goal at 17:40 of the first period when he came rushing up the ice with Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov. “When we’re playing with emotion and energy, we’re a tough team to stop.”
After referees Dean Morton and Tim Peel sorted everything out, Blunden got called for too-many-men and interference. When the rest of the penalties on both teams – 48 minutes in total – cancelled each other out, the Rangers were awarded a five-on-three power play.
“You just see the chemistry the team has; we’re all sticking up for each other,” Del Zotto said. “All five guys jump in there – you can tell right away from the first day of training camp that this team has gelled right away. A couple new additions, but we have each other’s back, and it showed in that situation.”
“There were a lot of penalties, a lot of five-on-four time, five-on-three time and that kind of controlled the play there,” said Dan Girardi after logging 30:50 of ice time. “That was one of the better periods we had all year.”
As a result of the brawl, Sauer and Nokelainen were both ejected from the game, costing the Rangers one of their top four defensemen. Rangers coach John Tortorella, down to five defensemen, played Del Zotto for 27:26 and Ryan McDonagh for 25:19, in addition to Girardi’s nearly 31-minute evening.
“We lose Michael in that fight, and then with all the penalties we ended up icing Jeff [Woywitka]. It was just hard to get him back on the ice,” Tortorella said after his 100th win as Rangers coach. “A big man, it was hard to get him on the ice. We spent a lot of time with our top four.”
“Obviously, you’re kind of out there every other shift,” Girardi said. “We’re used to that – that’s why we do training camp as hard as we do so we’re ready for that.”
“The guys are playing really well back there right now,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said after making 25 saves. “They look confident and strong with the puck. You can tell the “D” are joining the rush a little more now, probably because they have more jump in their skating. That’s important for us.”
Thirty-nine seconds after the fisticuffs, Derek Stepan sent a brilliant cross-crease backdoor feed to Erik Christensen, who tapped in his first goal of the season. By the end of the first, the Rangers had blitzed Montreal for three goals, and a 16-3 lead in shots.
“The first period, everything was good for us,” Lundqvist said after his fourth win of the season. “Obviously we spent almost half the period on the power play, so that helps. Then you get a couple goals also, you get a lot of confidence from that. We knew it would be a tougher second period and third period. We responded well.”
Despite a short-lived Montreal (5-6-2) comeback , including a goal just 24 seconds into the second period and another tally on a five-on-three power play by Andrei Kostitsyn, Brad Richards extended the Rangers lead back to 4-2 with a wrister past Carey Price (24 saves) with 1:10 left in the middle period.
“Sometimes it might be ugly, but you sacrifice yourself,” Richards said after scoring his fourth goal of the season. “The details of the game, as ugly as it seems sometimes, if you just take care of a couple details at the right time you’ll get through it.”
New York (6-3-3) was only 1-9 on the power play, with that tally coming on the two-man advantage. Their struggling power play is 2-18 in its last three games.
Marian Gaborik added an assist. He has tallied 10 points (5-5) through the Rangers first 12 games.
Andre Deveaux had an assist on Richards’ goal late in the second, for the youngster’s first point as a Ranger.