Last night at Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers pulled off a 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a win the Rangers truly needed as the start of the season has proved to be a rocky one. For a team that gained a powerhouse forward in Rick Nash, virtually stay intact in the offseason, and dominated the Eastern Conference last year, the Rangers seemed as if they would be the ones to beat going into this shortened season. Unfortunately, inconsistent play and the inability to convert on power play opportunities have plagued this Ranger team over the last five games. Even last night, the Rangers looked deflated and were lacking the grit and grind style of play that creates so many offensive opportunities for them. It was only late into the second period and most of the third that the Rangers looked like a solid hockey team. They scored four goals within the third period and as a result add two more crucial points to the win column.
The Leafs came into the game with a 2-2 record, earning both of their wins on the road. So, when the Leafs scored two unanswered goals in the first period, it looked like trouble for the Rangers, whose three losses of the season stemmed from when their opponent struck first.
Both of the Leafs’ goals were a result of the Rangers’ mental mistakes. Mikhail Grabovski opened the scoring and converted on the team’s first shot after Dan Girardi pinched in to help Ryan McDonagh cover John-Michael Liles who was controlling the puck and was making his way toward the net. Grabovski, all alone in front of Henrik Lundqvist and forgotten about by Girardi was able to fake out Lundqvist and put the puck in the back of the net. Late in the period, the Leafs capitalized on another Ranger mistake when the Blueshirts received a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Liles earned another point after his rebound was put in by James van Riemsdyk.
To the fans’ relief, the Leafs didn’t score again during the period. With the sound of the buzzer, the fans gained new hope, knowing there was a lot of hockey left the play and that the Rangers had a chance to regroup and come out strong in the second. But that didn’t happen. The Rangers continued to struggle, even though they found ways to aggravate netminder James Reimer, who faced a total of 25 shots in the first two periods, which was much worse than the nine Lundqvist faced in the same amount of time. Coach John Tortorella was desperately trying to jumpstart his team, by creating new line combinations and double-shifting his top line of Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Nash. His strategy paid off five minutes into the second when Richards converted on Nash’s rebound. The goal seemed to give the Rangers, and their fans new life. But that energy and conscious play seemed to come in spurts. Beautiful passing sequences would be made and scoring chances would present themselves and then moments later the team would end up flatfooted again. The lack of hitting and intensity created an aura of nonchalance throughout the entire arena.
Finally, the Rangers came to play in the third period. Maybe being 20 minutes away from another loss pushed them to play desperate hockey or maybe they were just sick of the fans’ chants of “Please stop sucking” that motivated them to play their game. Whatever their motivation, it worked. Marc Staal tied the game at two and Gaborik put the team ahead by redirecting one of Staal’s shot attempts. Brian Boyle added an insurance goal with three minutes left to play and Gaborik, who ended the night with four points, sealed the deal with an empty-netter.
The fans and the team were elated. The Rangers were able to fight their way back and rally to earn a win.
“We finally just put too much pressure on them. We definitely deserved this win,” said Lundqvist.
With a team that has all the pieces to go the distance, the strong defense, the solid goaltending and the offensive power of Nash, Gaborik and Richards, to name a few, something still seems to be lacking. Hopefully the Rangers will be able to continue to build on last night’s momentum and find their footing in order to bring them back to their form and help them regain the confidence that drove them to success last season.