The Rangers entered play tonight having five games left on the schedule. The Rangers’ magic number to clinch the Eastern conference is five; in other words, any combination of Rangers points gained or Pittsburgh Penguins points lost equalling five will give the Rangers the number one spot in the East. The Rangers took the Ice tonight trying to get that number down to three or less depending on the out come of the Sabres- Penguins match. The opponent the Montreal Canadiens ,a team that resides in the basement or “sous-sol” as it is know in Canada are the polar opposite of the Rangers.
The Habs entered the contest having lost five of their last six games. Tonight is the Canadiens first game since they fired general manager Pierre Gauthier and dismissed former GM Bob Gainey, of his role as team adviser. During the press conference in which these moves were announced the Montreal Canadiens’ owner Geoff Molson stated “We need to remember that our fans want us to win, period,” “Our organizational culture is to support and adopt this passion for victory. Nothing else matters.”
To put it in simple terms, they are a mess.
A huge reason why both teams are where they are right now can be traced back to June 30th, 2009, when Rangers GM Glen Sather and then-Canadiens’ GM Bob Gainey completed a trade that sent Scott Gomez and his hefty contract that still had five years and more than $30 million left on it along with Tom Pyatt and Mike Busto to Montreal in exchange for Christopher Higgins, Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko and the rights to Doug Janik . The Rangers used the savings from trading Gomez, to sign Marian Gaborik, and flipped Higgins in a trade that brought back Brandon Prust.
Hindsight is 20-20, but Ryan McDonagh is an emerging star in the NHL and Marian Gaborik leads the Rangers in scoring, while Brandon Prust is a key role player. Scott Gomez, who is out with a concussion, has been such a bust for the Canadiens that there is talk they will be buying him out after the new CBA is hammered out. Tom Pyatt, after scoring four goals over parts of two seasons, went to Tampa Bay via free agency. Mike Busto has not gotten higher then the ECHL.
While this trade is not the sole reason for both teams’ current states, it is a certainly a factor.
The first period was like so many others here at Madison Square Garden the Rangers, taking the body, blocking shots, taking away the passing lanes. And when they occasionally let the Canadiens shoot, there was The King, denying them. Oh yeah and then there was the now-commonplace goal produced by the Richards-Gaborik-Hagelin line, as Marian Gaborik moved one goal closer to joining Jean Ratelle and Mike Gartner as only the third player in franchise history to have multiple 40-goal seasons as a Ranger.
The Rangers extended their lead with a power play tally 30 seconds into the second when Brad Richards scored his 25th of the year off a perfect pass from Derek Stepan and a secondary assist from Michael DelZotto. The Rangers went into lock down mode for the first three quarters of the second period, but seemed to let up slightly over the last five minutes of the frame, but escaped with the 2-0 lead in tact.
The Candiens left whatever fight they had in them in the locker room, as over the first half of the third period the Rangers outshot the Habs 7-0 . The Rangers would cash in another power play goal once again off a picture-perfect pass by Derek Stepan to Michael Del Zotto who blasted a shot from the point throw the pads of Carey Price giving the Rangers a comfortable 3 goal lead. Del Zotto would add an even strength goal, his 10th of the season to round out the Rangers scoring.
The only blemish on the night was Rene Bourque’s goal, which spoiled Henrik Lundqvist’s quest for a shutout at 17:31 of the third period.
The Rangers take a lot of positives from this game, the power play moved the puck well all night ,scoring 2 power play games, giving them 4 over the last two games, when asked what the reason for the recent success Michael Del Zotto felt.
“The thing is, we’re moving the puck quickly. We’re not holding onto it too long,” said Del Zotto, whose second goal of the game came on the power play. “When that happens, other teams are allowed to get in there flush and get into the setup they want. Right now, the puck’s moving so quickly, and no genius has to tell you that the puck moves more quickly than a body, so when we’re doing that with the skill we have, we’re able to score goals.”
The win gave the Rangers their 50th of the season a mark that only 2 other Ranger teams have reached, when asked to reflect on that Brian Boyle said “ It’s hard to reflect now on it, I’m sure we will when it’s all said and done when the seasons over but it was a good win for us tonight obviously we want to continue gaining ground and gaining points and that’s kind of our main goal, its not about being satisfied with the 50 wins, yeah it’s a great accomplishment, it’s hard to do but we still want to improve”
Del Zotto echoed his teammates’ sentiment: “We just want to keep moving forward each day, it was a huge road trip for us, as far as getting all four points and now coming in here getting the win, it’s all about moving forward and getting home ice.”
Coach John Tortorella stated it best in the post game press conference when asked to reflect on the 50 wins: “It doesn’t mean squat, it means absolutely nothing, it’s about how we are playing as we go through these next 4 games, 4 tough opponents. It’s about our game and going into playoffs, you get measured by playoffs, you get measured as a player and a team by the playoffs.”
The Rangers’ magic number is 3, the coach and the players have had a singular focus all season long. They are all on the same page. But the same cannot be said of the Montreal Canadiens.