With a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils Monday night at Madison Square Garden the New York Rangers accomplished three feats: They became the first team in the Eastern Conference to clinch a playoff spot, added a few extra points in the standings between them and the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers as both teams continue to close the point gap, and the Blueshirts played their style of hockey. Gritty, physical and smart, that was how the Rangers played last night and why they came away with the win.
The tone of the game was set within three seconds after the puck dropped as three fights broke out. Brandon Prust, Mike Rupp and Stu Bickel dropped the gloves with Cam Janssen, Eric Boulton, and Ryan Carter, respectively. As the three fights spilled across center ice, the Garden Faithful was on its feet egging the Blueshirts on. This was the type of game the fans came to see, an intense playoff-style matchup.
All six players received five minutes for fighting and Devils’ defenseman Bryce Salvador received a 10-minute game misconduct for trying to pull Bickel off of a bloodied Carter after the two fell to the ice.
Following the game Bickel and Brandon Dubinsky both said that an entire line throwing down the gloves was not something they are used to seeing in the NHL, but both commended their teammates for stepping up to the challenge.
“I’m thrilled with how they responded and I am more happy as far as how the team responded,” said Coach John Tortorella about the game’s opening seconds.
How did the Rangers respond? Well, after the initial tension of the game subsided and the fans became to retake their seats, Dubinsky gave the Garden crowd another reason to cheer. Sixty-eight seconds after the brawls ended, Dubinsky scored his eighth goal of the season during a 4-on-2 rush. Derek Stepan carried the puck into the offensive zone, and fanned on a pass that ended up on Dubinsky’s stick. Falling to one knee Dubinsky was able to fire the puck past Devils’ goaltender Martin Brodeur.
The Rangers would carry a 1-0 lead going into the second period, but would quickly open up the scoring gap when Dan Girardi ripped a wrist shot that fooled Broduer 33 seconds into the period. Carl Hagelin’s centering pass ricocheted off of Devils’ Captain Zach Parise and landed in Girardi’s vicinity.
New Jersey got on the board a few minutes later when Patrick Elias scored on a bad-angle shot. Henrik Lundqvist, who was hugging the post, was without his stick. When the puck left Elias’ stick, Lundqvist lifted his arm a little to try and block the shot, but the puck found its way through and into the back on the net.
When playing a team like the Devils, a one-goal lead is never safe. And although, Mats Zuccarello hasn’t played many games at the NHL level this season, he knew that the Rangers needed a little boost to secure the win. He did just that; and out of all the situations he could have notched a goal, he did it on the power play. The Rangers’ power play has been the talk of the season. Mindboggling as it may be for a team to be the leader of the Eastern Conference but struggle so much on the power play, the Rangers seem to always find a way to win.
But Zuccarello wants to make a statement to stay with the big club for the rest of the season, and for the time he has played with the Rangers recently, he has given new life to the power play.
Brad Richards fired the puck into the center of the net, knowing that Ryan Callahan would be in front to redirect, which he did. Although the redirection went a little wide, Zuccarello was at the other side of the net, and with Brodeur out of position, he wristed the puck into the open net.
Once again the Devils would battle back. Petr Sykora beat Lundqvist short side, as again, he tried to hug the post but couldn’t prevent the puck from going in.
Stepan would secure the Rangers’ win with 1:10 left to play in the game when Hagelin passed the puck to Dubinsky who was near the top of the blue line. Dubinsky shot the puck toward the net and Stepan tapped in the rebound.
For those who were on the team last year, it was a strange feeling for the Rangers to clinch a playoff berth with 10 games remaining. Unlike last year, when the Rangers’ fate was in another team’s hands as they had to wait and see if the Carolina Hurricanes would lose, the Blueshirts now have the opportunity to work out the kinks in their game and continue to improve before the postseason begins.
Tortorella didn’t even realize his team clinched a playoff spot. And while he is happy his team has, he still looks only far enough into the future to see the next game.
“I just want us to continue to play and continue to try to improve, and try to be playing our best hockey when we go into that last week. These last couple of weeks are very important,” he said.
The Rangers look to continue their win streak as they battle the Detroit Red Wings on the Garden ice Wednesday night.