NEW YORK – For ten hours on Sunday, Madison Square Garden roared like it hasn’t roared in years, as the Rangers demolished the Capitals 7-0 before one of their loudest crowds of the season hours after the Knicks dispatched the Denver Nuggets 129-125 in front of a deafening throng at MSG.
With Knicks star Danilo Gallinari in attendance, the Rangers scored four goals on their first nine shots in the second period in a span of 9:43 to take control of the game.
“We’re trying to create an identity for ourselves like that as a hard-working team,” Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said after a two-assist performance. “Finishing checks, blocking shots, and obviously we were able to put the puck in the net when we had to, but that was a really good game for us.”
Moments later, Brandon Dubinsky dropped Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin during a center-ice fight, and the Garden roared at 8:20pm the way it did at 2:30pm, and the way it hasn’t for the Rangers all season.
“I think they believe that’s who they are right now,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said of his players. “You can talk about it, I can talk about it, everybody else can talk about it. If they don’t believe that’s what they are, it’s a tough thing to be consistent with.”
“We brought some energy and the fans were great,” said Brian Boyle. “That’s what we want. We want to play well in front of our fans, and that’s what they want to see.”
Indeed, the Rangers – now 18-13-1 this season – have given their fans reason for optimism. This isn’t the most talented team in the NHL, but they are one of the most hard-working.
“The game was pretty much summed up by Brian Boyle blocking shots with 30 seconds left in the game,” Girardi said. “He gets one in the hand, blocks another one. That says a lot about our team. Thirty seconds left, but we wanted to get the shutout for Henke. We all did a great job blocking shots and working hard tonight.”
“It’s a rewarding type way to play. After the game you’re banged up, who knows what’s gone on along the boards, you feel good about it when we get a win,” Tortorella said. “We have to play that way. We’re not a team like Washington. We have to grind. The guys have done that consistently, and we’ve found ways to get points the first half of the year.”
They’ve only played 32 games of a long 82 game marathon, but the early returns on this season’s Rangers team are good. Not due to anything they’re doing physically, but because of something ticking inside of their bodies.
“We want to be the team that somebody else is talking about, rather than [us] talking about how good they are,” said Brandon Dubinsky after a 2 point night (1-1-2). “We feel we’re a good team, an elite team in this conference. We just have to continue to work hard and create our identity.”
Fatigue? What Fatigue?
New York improved to 8-0-0 in the second leg of back-to-back contests.
After the first two or three back-to-backs, the statistic could be dismissed as coincidence. But after eight? This is no coincidence.
“We’re a pretty in-shape team,” said Girardi. “We do a lot of work off the ice. You guys know from watching our training camp, it’s one of the toughest. We’re ready for back-to-back games like that. We’re mentally tough knowing that we’re a little tired but we’ll still battle through it and get the wins.”
“It’s just getting the job done,” Boyle said. “Last night we played pretty well, tonight we wanted to ramp it up a level, get a result. We did.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella said his team always tries to keep it simple, but has been more successful in the second leg of back-to-backs.
“We’re always trying to keep it simple. I think when you guys ask players questions, they have to come up with an answer for you sometimes. They have to say something to you. We don’t change much of our game-plan,” Tortorella said before the game. “We’re a team that is going to be successful by being simple. If we try to complicate it and add too much to it, it hurts our game.”
The Rangers have ten more back-to-backs remaining in their schedule.
“I am certainly not going to put one guy in front of the team,” Tortorella said. “That’s a team effort tonight and through these back-to-backs. It’s not an individual thing. Not to take anything away from Henrik. Our team plays well. Our team has played well this year, period.”
The Rangers and Knicks have played home games on the same day 37 times at the current MSG. The Rangers are 16-15-6 all-time, 2-1-0 this season. The Knicks are 22-15, 1-2 this season.
Tonight was the first time both the Rangers and Knicks won at MSG on the same day since November 26, 2005. That’s the night Marek Malik won a shootout in the 15th round against Washington after the Knicks defeated the Sixers in overtime.
The last time the Rangers defeated the Capitals by seven goals was Mar. 24, 1978 at Washington, an 11-4 thrashing.