The term “must win” is used so often, yet in reality it only truly applies to an elimination game. That being said, tonight’s contest against the Carolina Hurricanes was as close to a regular season must win for the New York Rangers as it could get. The Rangers were on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, a position they had not found themselves in a while. The Rangers were 1 game over .500 for the third time this season, a position they were in only two times all of last season.The Rangers are without one of their key defenseman Marc Staal , who came to tonight’s game to watch his brothers Jordan and Eric instead of playing against them.
Confidence is a fickle thing. When asked about it before the game, Coach John Tortorella reflected, and commented, “I think when you lose, and you are not doing the things you’re responsible to do or your just not playing well individually,then as a team that compounds…and it’s hard to explain. If i could explain, I think you would come up with an answer, but it’s a thing in the middle of their head, and inside everybody’s head. Thats a tough thing to explain, but I believe we will get out if it. ”
He also said the team spent their tape session watching their goals. Tortorella explained, “our team saw every good offensive play they could see today, not from the last game,but from the year to remind them that they can score, the last 3 road losses notwithstanding”.
Tonight, The Rangers once again came out flat being outshot early on by a 6-2 margin, and looked unengaged. Carl Hagelin seemed to breathe life into a totally listless team with his speed creating a breakaway that Carolina goalie Dan Ellis stopped . The line of Callahan -Stepan- Hagelin were the only forwards who appeared to show up. Rick Nash has been lost since Stepan and Hagelin were taken off his line, in a move that Coach Tortorella hoped would bring “balance to the lines”. The good news is the Rangers did not give up a goal in the first two minutes of the game, which had been the case in their last two games. This time they instead waited till the last two minutes , when Eric Staal buried a one timer on nice passes by Alexander Semin and Joni Pitkanen after Staal did the heavy work along the boards at 19:09 of the first. The goal marked the 18th time in 28 games that the Rangers have allowed the first goal. This is yet another reason that this teams confidence is so fragile. The Rangers headed to the locker room to a chorus of boos from the Garden faithful; not exactly a confidence building period.
The coaches words were prophetic, for as tentative as the Rangers were in the first period, they somehow played with the confidence of a team that was scoring with regularity, as opposed to a team into its fifth plus period of play. The Rangers would be rewarded for their hard work, as Derek Stepan goal at at 11:06 of the second period snapped the Rangers scoreless streak at 129:55. His linemates, Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan got rewarded for their hard work both registering assists. The Rangers outshot the Hurricanes 14 to 4 in the second period.
The Rangers entered the all-important third period trying to climb within one of the final playoff spot, which had been currently held by the Hurricanes. The Rangers started the third period looking to create. Micheal Haley drove hard to the net, JT Miller and Michael Del Zotto made confident moves into the offensive zone. The Line of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, and Rick Nash looked the best it has in a while. Brian Boyle and others were skating through checks while maintaining the puck. All that being said, the Rangers were 1 Carolina goal away from finding themselves 5 points behind Carolina, which would be a huge blow to their confidence. With time winding down, Steve Eminger got away with interference, and Kevin Westgarth retaliated with a slash putting the Rangers on a power play with 7:29 left in the period . For all the momentum they had generated through the first 13 minutes of play they outshot the Hurricanes 7 to 5. The power play seemed to settle the Hurricanes down a bit, as the Rangers didn’t really have any quality scoring chances. The Rangers continued to press with Carl Hagelin doing everything in his power to will the team to victory. Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash came close on the door step in the waning seconds of regulation, but Dan Ellis kept them off the board.
The Rangers had now gained at least a point and some confidence , and were now looking to get the all-important second point on the night. The Rangers controlled the Overtime, outshooting the Hurricanes. Dan Ellis held the Rangers off the Board and that second point would have to be gained in the shootout. While some confidence can be gained by gaining at least one point in the standings, the second point would be critical. Rick Nash made an all-world move on Dan Ellis to put the Rangers up in shootout, Ryan Callahan, Jiri Tlusty, Alexander Semin were all stopped. After the puck bounced momentarily on the way, JT Miller put the game away with the winner. While reflecting on the goal in the locker room, Miller said “normally I go to the backhand there, but I lost it. It sucks when that happens, but that’s the purpose of making that first fake and trying to get him to go down. Because maybe if that happens you can still go to your forehand and make a good shot there.”
The Rangers go into tomorrow’s game against New Jersey trying to build on tonight’s win.