NEW YORK – It wasn’t a kind of game where you could take a breath. But, there they were – the Rangers looking relaxed and easy-going in a game where there were only 28 total shots on goal.
They can beat you in a high-scoring game, in a low-scoring game, they can beat you with physicality and finesse. They can beat you any way you want to play. On Monday night, they ground the New Jersey Devils right down to their foundation in a gritty 2-0 win at Madison Square Garden.
And, now that the trade deadline is over with, and GM Glen Sather made only one minor addition, they’re relaxed while they’re doing it.
“It’s a good little boost; it’s a shot in the arm to know they believe in us like that,” said Mike Rupp. “I don’t think too many people coming into this year, we knew we were going to be a good hockey club, but I think we’ve exceeded some people’s expectations. To be shown from the brass that we like what we have here – we have a good shot at playing hockey for a long time. That feels good in this room.”
“Guys are really excited that the locker room didn’t change very much. We have such a tight-knit group and hold each other accountable and battle and have the will to compete most games. That’s a tough thing to find in a locker room, especially at this level,” said Ryan McDonagh. “The chemistry’s there, our leadership’s unbelievable. We get up for every game. The effort’s been there a ton this year.”
Both teams had a season-low in shots; the Rangers with 15, the Devils with 13. With New Jersey (35-23-4, 74 pts, 6th in East), scratching and clawing to stay in the playoff picture, the Rangers (40-15-6, 86 pts, 1st in East) bottled them up, forced them to the outside, and kept the dangerous Ilya Kovalchuk (23:52 time on ice, two SOG, four shots blocked) bottled up.
“It was a very tight game. Not a lot of shots for both sides. We came up with a win, which was important,” said Marian Gaborik. “We knew it was going to be this kind of game. Just had to be patient, not get frustrated, and play our game.”
“It’s always satisfying to win games no matter how you do it. Today we worked hard the entire game, I think we were good for probably 50 minutes of the game,” said Carl Hagelin, who scored the Rangers first goal with 3:01 left in the first period. “We played playoff hockey; very tight, didn’t give them anything. It’s always fun like that.”
There were lots of rumors flying around about what the Rangers would do as the trade deadline approached. As it turned out, the writers staked out at Madison Square Garden since 10 a.m. Monday morning had very little to write about. Only defenseman John Scott, from Chicago, came to the Rangers. He’s a depth player that may not even play every night.
No one left the Rangers locker room; Chicago received only a fifth-round draft pick in the 2012 draft.
“Everybody’s happy it’s over, we don’t have to hear about, think about it, talk about it,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of the trade deadline after stopping 13 shots for his league-leading 8th shutout of the season. “We can just focus on our game. I’m happy management believes in us and what we’ve built here over the last five, six months. Everybody’s really excited about what’s ahead of us.”
“The intensity’s been picking up a couple weeks before this,” McDonagh said. “We know points are going to be even harder to come by. We’re a pretty confident group and know what our structure is and what leads to our success.”
After the game, Tortorella called this Rangers team the tightest he’s ever coached because of how well they’ve bonded together. Now, they know who will be in the brotherhood for the stretch run. And they couldn’t be happier.
Lundqvist won 30 games for the seventh straight season. He’s the fourth goaltender in NHL history to accomplish the feat, joining Tony Esposito, Patrick Roy, and Martin Brodeur.
Lundqvist improved to 22-6-5 in the regular season against Brodeur, including a 1.72 GAA, a .936 save percentage, and five shutouts.
The 13 shots allowed are the fewest the Rangers have allowed in a game since allowing 11 to Calgary on January 19, 1981.
POST-GAME AUDIO CLIPS: