There’s no worse feeling for a team in the NHL than losing in overtime or a shootout just as the Rangers did last night against their rivals, the New York Islanders. But there is no better feeling than to come out the very next night and win in overtime or a shootout just as the Rangers did this evening against the Buffalo Sabres in front of their home crowd. In my opinion, it was the perfect bounce-back response that the Blueshirts needed following the loss to the Isles, especially since it prevented a three-game losing streak to develop.
The Rangers had their legs from the start tonight for a change, and they quickly applied pressure on Ryan Miller and the Sabres. Miller, playing in the second of a back-to-back, had an answer for all 14 shots the Blueshirts sent his way in that opening stanza, though. New York even had a partial powerplay to end the first, in which they bombarded Miller’s crease with all sorts of commotion, but Ryan stood strong to weather the storm.
Meanwhile, despite their domination in the first, the Rangers made one defensive error and it ended up costing them. Marc Staal was caught pinching in the offensive zone, none of the forwards on the ice covered for him as they should’ve, and the Sabres came down on an odd-man rush that ended with Paul Gaustad finishing a pass from Tyler Ennis to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
The Rangers answered at 7:38 of the second period when rookie Carl Hagelin finally was able to sneak one past Miller with a slick wraparound through traffic. That goal was the tenth of Hagelin’s stellar freshman year in the National Hockey League, and it’s that very “get the puck to the net” mentality that he scored this goal with that’s helped make him so successful this season. That, coupled with his speed, makes him a very effective winger for this team.
Both teams played tight defensively from that point on, and the Rangers also killed off a delay of game penalty on Artem Anisimov. They would again exchange goals in the first half of the third period, however, to get the game to 2-2. First it was Drew Stafford scoring his second of the game at the end of a beautiful passing play by the Sabres as they entered the Rangers’ zone. It’s easy to blame the defense on the first Buffalo goal of the game, but it’s tough to defend the play executed on the second. That was some pretty passing.
Just over five minutes later, Michael Del Zotto gave a cutting Marian Gaborik a perfect pass to send him on a mini-breakaway, which Gaborik converted on with a high backhander over the glove of Miller. It was a great look by Del Zotto to start the play, but an even greater finish by Gabby for his second goal in two games.
The Rangers brought the heat in the final minutes with a powerplay opportunity and following that until the buzzer sounded, but Miller stood on his head for the Sabres and forced this game to overtime.
For the third time this season, captain Ryan Callahan would come through for the Rangers and score the game-winner against the Sabres. This one, which was a walk-off coming in overtime, was set up by a heads-up pass by Ryan McDonagh, and from there Cally burned Patrick Kaleta, cut to the net and beat Miller through the arm for his 100th career goal. Picture perfect finish, I’d say.
Callahan played a hell of a game for the Rangers tonight, so it was more than fitting that he was the one to win it for them. MSG Network actually had a nice video timeline during the intermission that showed how Callahan was going into the dirty areas of the ice in the first two periods and absorbing all of the bumps and bruises that came along with it. I know I say it all of the time, but that’s why he wears the 'C'.
And not only did Cally score his 100th goal of his career, but it was also his 24th of the season, which is a career-high for him.
I didn’t think goaltender Henrik Lundqvist played his best tonight, but for once, his team came up big for him as they came back and tied and then eventually won. I think Lundqvist could’ve stopped both goals he allowed, and I think he would agree with that statement. He did make a quick robbery save off the faceoff on Derek Roy in the third period when it was 2-1, however, so that was a clutch stop that probably saved the game for his club.
The defense in front of Hank played much better tonight than they did on Friday on Long Island. We saw less turnovers and more ‘neater’ plays, and to further prove that, a defenseman picked up the primary assist on every Ranger goal tonight. John Tortorella’s system, when executed to near perfection, very often includes the defensemen even in the offensive zone, and we saw that tonight much more than we have in recent games. Well, we always see it but it doesn’t always work; tonight it did.
On offense, I think Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin were the two main standouts for me. Gaborik’s been heating up lately after going through a slight slump earlier in the month, and Hagelin is really clicking with his linemates, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. He’s a depth scorer that can compliment Gabby’s primary scoring well as this season progresses into the playoffs.
Now I called out Brad Richards in my pregame, so I think it’s only fair to follow that up with the credit that is deserved after his play in tonight’s game. He was skating well, he picked up an assist on Hagelin’s goal and, most importantly, he shot the puck on net five times tonight. I have found that Richards is most effective when he looks shot instead of pass, believe it or not, and he had plenty of those in this one. Now he just needs to continue this and something tells me he will if his linemates continue to roll as well as they have.
So the Rangers went 1-for-2 on the weekend and picked up three out of a possible four points in the standings. Earlier in the week we said that these two outings would be the deciding factor for GM Glen Sather regarding the Rick Nash and whether he should pull the trigger on a trade. Well, his club did score six goals in two games and only left one point behind; can Slats be unimpressed with those stats?
Only time will tell.