After a deflating loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night, the New York Rangers were able to bounce back and grab two points at Madison Square Garden beating the Leafs 3-2 in a shootout. Mats Zuccarello scored the lone and game-winning goal as Henrik Lundqvist stopped all three of Toronto’s attempts.
Zuccarello, who has played the past seven games with the Rangers and has been looking for his first goal, was elated to help the team gain the extra point.
“He needed to do something, and he did,” said Rangers’ Coach John Tortorella of Zuccarello. “We bounced him around and I thought he responded really well.”
Zuccarello, with his speed, poise and vision, was a dominant presence on the ice for the Rangers. He has been playing well for the team by creating chances and adding an extra spark to the power play. And it only seems fitting that a player skating the way Zuccarello has been as well as struggling to put up points, gives the team the lift they needed.
The difference between Monday and last night’s games for the Rangers was the defensive play. On Monday, the Rangers had too many breakdowns and gave the Leafs too many opportunities to put the puck on net. Torts stressed that his defense needed to tighten up and he believes his team’s concentration on that aspect of their game gave them the needed opportunities to pull off last night’s win.
“We played much better defensively,” said Tortorella. “It is a hard game. I don’t want to make excuses for them but it is hard coming off that trip and the travel…I’m happy they grinded away.”
From the drop of the puck the game had a playoff type feel, as most have the month of April, because both teams had to play hard and gritty hockey to sustain pressure in their respective offensive zones. Both the Rangers and Leafs were playing well defensively only allowing a combine total of 19 shots in the first 20 minutes, which led to a scoreless first period.
Phil Kessel would again prove to be a nuisance for the Rangers, recording another two-goal night against the Blueshirts. He opened the scoring after he cut through the slot, pressuring an unsuspecting Ryan Callahan who was trying to handle a rebound. In one motion, Kessel came behind Cally and slapped a shot past Lundqvist.
The Rangers’ Carl Hagelin answered back mid-second period after a long and tiring shift. The Rangers were putting a lot of pressure on the Leafs, making goaltender James Reimer work, and with the puck in deep, Hagelin did not have the opportunity to make his way to the bench. Although he was tired, it was obvious Hagelin was itching for a goal. He snapped his 11-game scoreless streak and lifted his hands in the air as if to say “finally” when he put in a Ryan McDonagh’s rebound. With Reimer out of position, Hagelin had an open net when.
McDonagh would prove to be even more valuable, aside from his stellar defensive play and the assist on Hagelin’s goal, as he scored the go-ahead goal nearing the end of the second period. McDonagh ripped a shot from the top of the blue line after faking out Nazem Kadri and opening up a clear shooting lane.
The Rangers held onto the lead until the middle of the third period when Kessel struck again. The Rangers had the puck in the offensive zone, but a back pass to Dan Girardi took a weird bounce and allowed James van Riemsdyk to pick up the puck and create an odd man rush down the ice. Girardi raced to stay even with van Riemsdyk and McDonagh was defending Kessel, but van Riemsdyk slid a perfectly placed pass right on the tape of Kessel’s stick. Initially, it looked as if Lundqvist made the save, but the puck was actually tucked away in the back on the net. The goal came off the first shot Toronto was able to get on goal in 24 minutes. Talk about strong defense, the Rangers held the Leafs to no shots from three minutes into the second period until Kessel scored in the middle of the third.
Callahan and the Rangers continued to assault Reimer, and had plenty of opportunities to regain the lead, but Reimer stayed strong between the pipes and earned his team a point. Although strong in the overtime period as well, Reimer allowed Zuccarello to go five-hole in the shootout.
The lone goal was all Lundqvist would need as Tyler Bozak, Kadri, and Mikhail Grabovski were no match for him.
“We were really lucky to get those two points,” said Hagelin. “Overall, I thought it was a pretty strong game for us.”
The plot for a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs thickens as the Rangers are now tied for sixth place with the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders. The Rangers will battle their rivals, the Islanders for another opportunity to gain two crucial points in the standings Friday night at Nassau Coliseum.