Stepan’s OT Goal Lifts Rangers Over Blue Jackets

February 20, 2012

Tensions were high Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Not only were the New York Rangers coming off one of the worst games they played all season, a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks where the Blueshirts’ defense collapsed and allowed four goals in approximately four minutes, but also the Columbus Blue Jackets were coming to town, which meant their Captain Rick Nash would be in tow.

Nash has been a hot topic of late, with the deadline quickly approaching and at least four teams interested in adding the 27-year-old right winger to their lineup—the Rangers being one of them. While the Garden Faithful are too loyal to cheer for an opposing player, many couldn’t help but wonder if the man they were booing would be donning the Ranger sweater next week.

But knowing Rangers’ Coach John Tortorella and his philosophy, the Rangers were only going to focus on the game at hand. “One game at a time” has been Torts motto all season, and once again it proved to work for the Rangers as they beat the Blue Jackets 3-2 in overtime.

As many of the Rangers have reiterated all season, the team’s maturity to bounce back after a loss has led to a majority of their success. Derek Stepan stated it again tonight. “Our team has had a pretty good maturity level all year long, being able to bounce back in tough situations,” he said. “It was a good test for us to see if we would bounce back, and I think we did a great job.”

There is no way around it; the Chicago game was not pretty. Passes were missed, the puck was mishandled, and the defense was nonexistent. With a few days rest, the Rangers were able to regroup and refocus. And last night, they bounced back in a way that allowed them to play their game.

A big reason why the Blueshirts came away with the win was because the lines were working well together. The Rangers got on the board first late in the opening period when Michael Del Zotto gathered the puck on the boards and found Brad Richards in the center breaking toward the offensive zone. The speedy rookie, Carl Hagelin, caught up to Richards on the left wing and the Rangers found themselves in a 3-on-2 situation. A quick give-and-go between Richards and Hagelin opened up an opportunity for Richards to send a shot past goaltender Steve Mason.

A few minutes after Blue Jackets’ forward Derek Dorsett evened the score with a power play goal in the second period, he sent a rocket from the blue line past a screened Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers had an opportunity to pull ahead as they found themselves with a 2-man advantage.

Dorsett received two minutes for interference, and 28 seconds into the first power play, Nash was sent to the penalty box for hooking. The Rangers had 1:47 with a 2-man advantage, but were not able to convert. Ah, the Achilles heel of the Blueshirts, their power play. While they seemed to smooth out the kinks in Philadelphia, tonight proved they have more work to do as they were unable to penetrate the net and create a precise shooting lane.

Not long after the groans and boos rained down on the Rangers from a frustrated crowd as another unsuccessful power play attempt ended, Artem Anisimov gave new life to the team and its spectators. Anisimov, who has improved his game even since he was reunited on a line with Stepan and Marian Gaborik, racking up seven points in the last eight games, scored on Dan Girardi’s rebound that bounced off the glass and right in front of the net. Anisimov skated toward the puck and wristed a shot past a diving Mason.

The Rangers looked as if they would have a two-goal lead going into the third, when Del Zotto found an opening with less than a second left to play in the period. When reviewing the play, the fans were sure the goal would count as the replay showed the puck in the back of the net with .1 seconds left. Unfortunately, for the Rangers and their fans, the goal needed to be verified at the NHL headquarters in Toronto. After review, Del Zotto’s goal was rejected as Toronto’s time clock showed zero seconds. After the game, Tortorella agreed that it was the right call.

The Rangers held onto the lead until there were less than two minutes left to play in the game. The Blue Jackets pulled Mason for an extra skater. R. J. Umberger won the faceoff against Brian Boyle deep in the Rangers’ zone, and the puck found its way to Jeff Carter. Carter slid a pass to friend/ foe—we won’t know until next Monday—Nash, who fired a shot past Lundqvist.

“It was a 2-1 game for a long time, and unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with the save there to keep it a 2-1 game, but as long as we get the two points,” said Lundqvist, who has 21 saves on the night. “It’s still a tricky game, when you’re that much better, and I really think we were. You just have to stay patient, you can’t start trying too hard to get the next goal.”

Well, it didn’t seem as if Stepan tried too hard because he made scoring the game-winner look oh so easy. Twenty-two seconds is how long it took for Stepan to end the game. After a nice passing combination between Del Zotto and Gaborik, Del Zotto found himself with the puck in front of the net. He faked the shot, which left Mason out of position, and sent a pass to Stepan who was open in front. Stepan ended the game, secured a Ranger victory and earned himself the Broadway Hat.

“Mike’s a great passer too,” said Stepan of Del Zotto’s game-winning assist. “I knew he would look to pass on that one, especially because everyone was diving in front of him. So he made a great play.”

Torts couldn’t agree more.

“We handled ourselves well,” Tortorella said. “I don’t think there was any panic, and we make a hell of a play in the overtime to score the winner.”

The Rangers will look to improve their power play and continue playing as a cohesive unit as they face the always difficult Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.