The New York Knicks' season may be full of "linsanity" backed by the play of Jeremy Lin, but what the first place New York Rangers have been able to accomplish has been "lundbelievable" thanks to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Tonight's 3-0 blanking of the second place Boston Bruins made a huge statement for this team, and that statement is that no opponent is too difficult of a challenge for the Blueshirts to handle. Despite the Rangers leading the Eastern Conference, many still felt that the Bruins were the team to beat. I think tonight's shutout victory may have people changing their minds.
As opposed to the start they got off to in their 3-2 OT win over the Bruins earlier in the year, the Rangers were much more aggressive at the beginning of tonight's tilt. They forced Boston's defensemen to handle the puck deep in their own zone, and that's something that Zdeno Chara and friends had difficulty doing. This resulted in turnovers and eventually penalties that benefited New York.
On their one and only powerplay of the night, the Rangers took advantage by scoring a goal that was identical to the one scored with the man advantage in Philadelphia back on Saturday. It started with Marian Gaborik holding the puck at the top of the circle, before dishing it off to Michael Del Zotto cutting in through the slot. Del Zotto then sent a perfect pass through the crease to Ryan Callahan, who easily redirected the tap-in to the back of the net behind Tim Thomas. I'm convinced this is a set play that the Rangers have worked on in practice, because the resemblance there is way too good to be a coincidence.
That goal, by the way, was Callahan's sixth in 4 games and the Rangers' fifth powerplay tally in 3 games. Whoa.
The Rangers would add to their lead with just 12 seconds remaining in the first period when Ryan McDonagh's shot from the point made its way through traffic, deflected off the leg of Zdeno Chara and across the goal line. So after a solid effort in the opening twenty minutes, the Rangers found themselves with a somewhat comfortable lead going into the intermission on McDonagh's second goal in two games.
From that point on, though, the tables turned as the Bruins upped their game to begin the second stanza. They nearly tripled the Rangers' shot total in that period, but goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was lights out tonight. Chance after chance the Bruins had to score, but Henrik continually shut the door and had their entire team raging in frustration. This all carried into the third period, as no team found the back of the net during the second.
Lundqvist's dominance between the pipes continued in the final twenty, as he made save after save to preserve his shutout. Then, to make matters worse for the Bruins, a defensive breakdown allowed Artem Anisimov to come down on the wing on a 2-on-1, in which he fooled Tim Thomas with a fake pass over to Michael Del Zotto, and then shot far corner to make it a 3-0 game at that point.
King Henrik took complete control from there, making a total of 18 stops in the third period to total 42 saves over the course of the entire game. 42 saves? That's "lundbelievable" if you ask me.
In all seriousness, though, Hank is the main reason the Rangers are coming away with a win tonight. I give the Rangers credit because they hung in there and played some smart defensive hockey in the second period. They simply could not get much of anything going offensively, though, and it's times like those in which you need your goaltender to step up and win a game for you. Lundqvist did that tonight, and now leads the league in shutouts with seven. Can you say Vezina?
Ryan Callahan was again the most impressive skater out there in white in my eyes. He was all over on offense and defense, and I know that he always gives the Rangers a consistent effort, but something about his play as of late has stood out to me a little more. He's been able to find ways to put more pucks in the net that way, and as the second-leading scorer on this team, that's a good thing to see.
I also thought Marian Gaborik was very active offensively on his 30th birthday. He picked up an assist on the Callahan goal, but also registered 3 shots in the game. It's incredible because three to five shots per game seems to be Gabby's average this season, where as just one would be considered fortunate for him last year. That stat alone shows how far he has come from the slump he was in during 2010-11.
And you cannot say enough about the defensive play of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. Many teams struggle to defend that Boston team, but these guys handled the job extremely well. Sure, they got help from Lundqvist - okay, a lot of help from Lundqvist - but I still thought they both had great games.
I know there are more players to be complimented, but all in all, it was a team effort that won the Rangers this game, led by Henrik Lundqvist in goal. He has the ability to carry the Rangers as far as they want. Hell, I bet he can even beat the Red Wings in Detroit.
But more importantly, the Rangers have now climbed nine points ahead of the Bruins for the conference lead. A few more wins and there will be no catching them before April.