In a season in which the Rangers broke camp to start the season in Europe, came back to the states to play an additional five games on the road,then waiting to having their home opener in the newly renovated MSG a few days before Halloween, and spending the tail end of November and all of December in front of the HBO lights culminating in the Winter Classic, the Rangers now embark on the real 24/7 grind of an NHL season as the Winter months of the season slowly morph into spring and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Rangers, till basking in the glow of the outstanding Winter Classic victory over the Flyers, skated out to about 26,000 fewer fans tonight in a far more conventional and familiar setting. How would the Rangers handle a game without the entire hockey world watching? Would they continue on with their eighth win in the last nine games or would they fall prey to the dreaded let down trap game?
The Rangers started the contest with the line that turned the tide in the Classic. The Richards-Dubinsky-Callahan line generated some quick chances, but then the play settled down a bit and a moment of indecision on the part of defenseman Stu Bickel led to a 2-on-1 odd man rush with Marcel Goc finding the back of the net high on the glove side of Marty Biron for a 1-0 Panther lead.
While the Rangers put more pucks at the net, it was the Panthers who dictated play for much of the opening stanza.With 6:09 left in the first, perhaps Mike Rupp was hoping for outdoor ice conditions as a wide open net awaited him but the puck bounced over his stick. The shift however seemed to shift the momentum a bit, as a little less then fpur minutes later gritty work by Ruslan Fedotenko led to Anton Stralman’s first goal as a Ranger, and the chance to wear the Broadway hat later in the evening.
Stralman said of his first goal as a Ranger “It’s been a long summer and a long fall, so finally I ended up here. I couldn’t be happier, the teams winning , were playing good, it’s fun to contribute”
The Rangers controlled play in the second period and continued to get gritty tough in your face play by Ruslan Fedotenko, who maybe sensing his playing time could be in jeopardy with Wojtek Wolski’s imminent return.
Coach John Tortorella confirmed that when asked about Fedotenko’s physical play in the post game. “He has to. He’ll come out of the lineup if he doesn’t. That’s a big parts of Feds’ game. I got a couple of guys that are healthy. Wolsee’s healthy he is probably the next one to get an opportunity here. Feds knows that ‘Fedotenko was noticeable every time he was on the ice doing the things that teams need on nights like tonight.’ The real 24/7 NHL, the everyday grind that is the push to the playoffs. On many nights it is the hard work of guys like Fedotenko that gain the points needed to make the playoffs.”
The Panthers opened the door for the Rangers by taking a two many men on the ice penalty and the Rangers power play cashed in with a beautiful display of passing that resulted in Ryan Callahan’s deflection for his 14th goal of the season on assist by Brad Richards and Dan Giradri. The Rangers let up on the ensuing shift that allowed Mike Santorelli to tie the game just 36 seconds later with his 5th goal of the year
The Panthers inexplicably took another too many men penalty in the third that Rangers failed to capitalize on. As the Third period wound down both teams seemed content to take at least one point out of the contest, and take their chances in overtime.
Aside from the role players like Ruslan Fedotenko contributing on nightly basis, it is equally important for the stars of the team to come up to HUMONGOUS, to borrow a word out of Iyla Bryzgalov’s dictionary. That is exactly what Marian Gaborik did in the overtime session as he took a beautiful pass into the zone from Derek Stepan and leaned into a blast that beat Scott Clemmensen for the game winner and his team leading 23rd of the season.
The importance of the game was not lost on winning goalie Martin Biron who improved to 8-2 on the season. “It’s big. There’s been a lot going on the first three months of the season,starting with Europe,coming into the New Garden,you know with HBO,and the Winter Classic. You can put that behind you and now you have to generate some sort of jump,it took us a little bit in the first period,but once we got it going we played extremely well and that’s our identity as a team and that’s what we’ve got to keep doing. There are really good teams in this league, and we need to separate ourselves into the top group and we are trying to do that.”
24/7 Penguins on tap for tomorrow as the grind that is the real reality show of the NHL season trudges on.