The New York Rangers are on a roll, and in more ways than one. The team racked up its second consecutive win Sunday night at Madison Square Garden when they defeated the recently struggling Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 5-1, and the Blueshirts have finally started to find their flow. From the drop of the puck the Rangers mirrored last year’s team by applying constant pressure, establishing their forecheck and producing secondary scoring.
Carl Hagelin was a major part of the team’s secondary scoring last night as he notched two goals and ended the night with three points. Hagelin got the Rangers on the board 31 seconds into the game when Rick Nash’s shot deflected off him and into the corner of the net. He scored again in the second period to give the team a three-goal lead. Readily Hagelin has been upping his game as the season has progressed and if he continues to play the way he played last night, he will become a major asset to the team’s offensive game. The past few games he has had a constant presence on the ice, using his speed and agility to create turnovers and scoring chances, but has had trouble finding the back of the net.
“I always want to score,” said Hagelin postgame. “We have our top guns, but they aren’t going to be able to score every night. So it is important that we have other guys step up and I obviously want to be one of them.”
Aside from secondary scoring, the Rangers’ were happy to have defensemen Dan Girardi back in the lineup, who had missed the team’s past two games due to nagging injuries, along with the captain Ryan Callahan, who played in his second game after returning from a shoulder injury. These two are not just on-and off-ice leaders for the Rangers, but they are the guys who set the tone of the game through their styles of play. Both do everything, from blocking shots to sparking offense.
Not enough can be said about Callahan’s style of play. He may be 5 feet 11 inches and 189 pounds, but most nights he seems as if he is Goliath out on the ice. What creates that persona is his grit and passion for the game. He gives every ounce of energy he has, always plays a solid 60 minutes and doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Last night, he was once again rewarded for his efforts by notching the game winner late in the first period. He intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, broke toward the net and tucked the puck in under Mathieu Garon’s outstretched pad.
With the Rangers’ third goal of the night, and Hagelin’s second, midway through the second period, the Lightning’s coaching staff decided to replace Garon with Anders Lindback. The maneuver seemed to light a fire under the Lightning as they played with a little more intensity and Vincent Lecavalier ended Henrik Lundqvist’s chances for a shutout five minutes after Garon was pulled.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, Lundqvist was extremely sharp between the pipes and Lecavalier’s goal was the only one the Lightning would get. Even though he only had to make 19 saves and face 20 shots, due to the Rangers’ stellar defensive play, he faced multiple odd-man rushes in the first period.
“The most important part of the game was Hank. He was big for us early,” said Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella. “He made some big saves in the first ten minutes.”
When the team had struggled find a way to become a cohesive unit and earn points, Lundqvist placed most of the blame on himself. He knew he wasn’t playing to the best of his abilities and it was gnawing at him. He understands he is the backbone of the team and needs to play at a level that doesn’t just give his team a chance at winning, but that secures their success for the season. And although he had another solid game, he still knows there is room for improvement.
“I’m getting there technically and mentally,” Lundqvist said postgame. “I think I’m starting to get close to where I need to be.”
In the third period, the Rangers continued to dominate play, even though they were playing a more defensive-minded game. It was clear they did not want to give up any cheap goals or allow the Lightning to gain momentum in any way. Aaron Asham deflated the Lightning’s chances for a comeback halfway through the third when he scored his first goal as a New York Ranger. He now has scored for every team in the Atlantic Division.
With two minutes left in the game, the Rangers’ forward Chris Kreider was called for hooking, giving Tampa Bay its second power play of the night. Although the Rangers’ penalty unit wasn’t utilized a lot during the game, it was strong, not allowing the puck to find its way toward Lundqvist. And the team’s second penalty kill unit, proved to be even more useful as Hagelin and Nash connected for the second time on the night. Hagelin was able to get the puck at the top of the defensive zone and carry it out to create a two-on-one situation. Hagelin slid the pass to Nash, who ripped a nasty wrister past Lindback with nine seconds left to play in the game. The short-handed goal was the icing on the cake and a great note for the Rangers to end the game with.
In order to continue this winning streak, the Rangers will have stay disciplined, eliminate the mental lapses in their game and work on their power play, which is improving but still lacks production.