NEW YORK – In the first game back from Sochi for the Rangers and Blackhawks, it was hard to fault anyone if the first period looked like a game that had started shortly after 4:00 a.m. in Sochi, not 7:00 p.m. in New York City.
After all, for the athletes that only returned from the Winter Olympics three days ago, there is still a need to recover from the nine-hour time difference between Russia and New York.
“Last two days have been a bit tough,” said Rick Nash, who won a gold medal with Team Canada in Sochi on Sunday. “It’s been tough with the jet-lag trying to catch up on your sleep, but tonight felt pretty good.”
“It felt like 7 p.m., it felt like I’m back in the rhythm now,” said silver medalist Carl Hagelin. “I fell asleep around 11 p.m. last night, woke up around 8 a.m., [this morning]. I can’t complain.”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who visited his daughters in Canada during the Olympic break, wasn’t quite sure what to expect after seven of his players were half a world away in Sochi, while the other 15 enjoyed three weeks away from game action. What he saw was a tight-checking, defensively solid performance from his team in a 2-1 win over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks.
“I really liked the way we played in the first two periods,” Vigneault said. “You’re playing against the Stanley Cup Champions, you’re playing against the No. 1 offense in the league, I believe trading chances is not the way to go. That’s what we did for the first two periods. We were really solid, we back-checked hard, our shift-lengths were really good, we were able to keep a smart, high pace.”
The third period, though, was a bit different. With the Blackhawks trailing 1-0, they simplified their game and threw everything but the kitchen sink at Rangers back-up goaltender Cam Talbot, who gave Olympic silver medalist Henrik Lundqvist an extra game to recuperate from Sochi.
“The guys played great in front of me, they always work so hard in front of me,” Talbot said after making 31 saves to improve to 11-5-0 overall. “I couldn’t ask for more out of them. Very grateful they play that well in front of me, makes it a lot of fun to play behind them.”
The Blackhawks didn’t break through until there were 11.6 seconds left, when Peter Regin beat Talbot in front. On the ensuing shift, Patrick Kane had a glorious opportunity with three seconds left, but Talbot got his skate over, denied the scoring chance, and ended the game.
“I don’t think we gave them that much until the last two shifts there,” said Nash, who scored the Rangers’ second goal with 4:07 left in the third period. “Obviously, they threw everything they had at us. We still have to counter a bit better but I thought it was a great defensive game, and Talbot was first-star by far. He was unbelievable.”
“I wouldn’t say it was uncomfortable; we didn’t give up that much,” said Hagelin of a third period that saw the Blackhawks outshoot the Rangers 13-2. They had the puck a lot and got some shots, but there weren’t that many ‘Grade-A’ scoring chances.”
Rumors continue to swirl around Callahan, Girardi
With the NHL trade deadline set for March 5 at 3 p.m., trade rumors continue to circle around upcoming unrestricted free agents Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi. There is no indication an agreement is close between the Rangers and Callahan, which could lead the team to trade its captain and heart-and-soul leader.
Girardi, on the other hand, appears closer to signing a deal, and the rumors surrounding him aren’t quite at the fever pitch they are with Callahan.
“We’ll be working here the next few days hopefully and we’ll try to bang something out. Meantime, I go about my job,” Girardi said about the negotiations. “Away from the rink you deal with it and figure things out. Once you get here, it doesn’t even come into my head or anything. Morning skate, or coming into the game, that’s the last thing on my mind.”
The Rangers (33-24-3, 69 pts, 2nd in Metropolitan Division), have allowed two goals or less in 36 of their 60 games this season, including in ten of their last 11 home games. They’re 28-8-0 when doing so.
Derick Brassard scored a first-period goal to give him a seven-game point streak, tied for the longest point streak this season for the Rangers.
Nash has 12 goals in his last 17 games, and leads the team with 19 goals and seven game-winners.
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