Following Saturday’s shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, I opened my postgame by saying it’s not how you win games at this point in the year, but rather if you win games at all. That line can be recycled for tonight’s 3-2 defeat of the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center, as we surely didn’t see the Rangers’ best effort in this game, but they found a way to win and pick up another two points in the standings. No, they won’t get away with this style of play against tougher teams come playoff time, but it’s gotten the job done in their past two outings.
The Rangers opened this contest with a solid offensive effort in the first period. Their forecheck was going and they did an excellent job of working the play to the net and getting shots on goaltender Josh Harding. One of those shots, by Brandon Dubinsky at 11:23 of the period, eluded Harding and sat in the crease for a crashing Brian Boyle. Boyle tucked it in for his eighth of the season and to give the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead – something they haven’t had often as of late.
Boyle, by the way, netted his second goal in three games with this tally, to continue his improved play over the past week or so. Boyle is one of the players on my long list of those who I pick-on solely based on the fact that they can contribute more. Lately he has contributed more, and not only on the scoresheet, but also in the defensive zone and in the faceoff circle as well. Boyler wore the ‘Broadway Hat’ after tonight’s win.
Meanwhile, New York was unable to maintain their intensity going into the second period, which was when the Wild began to tighten up defensively and generate some scoring chances of their own. The Rangers looked a little surprised by this, and found themselves making the same mental errors in the defensive zone that have become problematic in recent games. This held true when Kyle Brodziak tied the game on the powerplay, as Ryan McDonagh failed to tie up his stick in the slot.
But the Rangers’ top line would later respond to regain the lead. Brad Richards made a stellar pass from behind the goal line to find Marian Gaborik, who had all the time in the world to pick a spot on Harding from the slot. That was Gabby’s 38th goal of the season and also his very first against his former club in the Wild.
The Wild, though, would bring the game to a tie once again before the end of the second. Much like on the first goal, lack of defensive coverage on the penalty kill cost the Rangers here. Granted the Wild made some nice passing plays, the Blueshirts were not in any position to defend them. Mikko Koivu would end up snapping home the tying goal with Henrik Lundqvist down on the play.
In the third period, I must say, Minnesota looked like the more desperate team. The Rangers were getting pinned in their zone and were relying on Lundqvist to keep this one tied late. That he did, and then with under seven minutes remaining in regulation, hometown boy Ryan McDonagh made a slick pass to set-up Ruslan Fedotenko for a tap-in and the Rangers grabbed the lead.
From that point on they went on a defensive lockdown and executed well, but prior to that it was night a pretty sight for the Rangers and their fans.
Henrik Lundqvist only faced 26 shots tonight, and he was able to stop 24 of them. All things considered, Hank’s overall play was improved compared to recent games. He looked more focused and positionally sound, which he certainly wasn’t in Toronto on Saturday night. Like I said, he had to be good in the third period and he was.
Ryan McDonagh was out on the ice for both Wild goals, and one he could have even prevented himself. However, I think that is sort of wiped out since he also helped formulate two of the Rangers’ three goals in his return to his home state tonight. As McDonagh’s confidence builds, we’ve seen him progress in his offensive maturity. This kid can make things happen with the puck on his blade, and I think in that respect, he’s grown quicker than teammate Marc Staal did at that age. That’s quite the compliment.
He was also a part of the secondary scoring, which came up big for the Rangers tonight. Yes, Marian Gaborik had one, but you see Ruslan Fedotenko break a drought and Brian Boyle contributing, and you must be happy as a coach. Secondary scoring is vital come playoff time, remember.
The effort tonight could’ve and should’ve been better, and this is again a matter of playing down to their opponent. But you cannot complain about the outcome, especially with the Islanders helping their rivals out with a huge 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins despite allowing 54 shots against (no, that’s not a typo).
So the Rangers have regained their three-point lead over the Pens and will have an opportunity to increase that to five points if they can defeat the Jets in Winnipeg tomorrow night. That will undoubtedly be a tougher challenge than tonight, but as they always say; the tougher the challenge, the more you get out of overcoming it. Those are another two tremendous points on the table for the Rangers tomorrow.