Originally written on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 3/21/12

The final score of tonight’s original six battle between the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings may have only included three total goals, but the display put on by these two clubs at Madison Square Garden was spectacular. It was a hard-fought, tightly-played defensive contest including two defenses and goaltenders who were not prepared to give up very much at all. And to the delight of the 18,200 on hand tonight – well, most of them anyway – the Blueshirts’ most complete effort in quite a while resulted in their second straight win to again give them a three-point advantage for the first place spot in the Eastern Conference.

While the Rangers did stick to the gameplan quite well for a majority of this tilt, the opening few minutes were not pretty. The Red Wings looked like the more motivated team and were outworking their opponent for loose pucks and scoring opportunities. Just 3:36 into the first, the hard work paid off when Henrik Zetterberg gave the Wings a 1-0 lead off a strong play by the entire unit out on the ice for Detroit. They stripped the Rangers of the puck, worked it down low and eventually got the puck to Zetterberg, who was cutting through the high slot. Zetts then sent a low wrister through the legs of Henrik Lundqvist for the 1-0 lead – a goal Lundqvist would undoubtedly like to have back.

New York would rebound, though, and eventually find their legs and pick up their physical play. Having played in a hyped up divisional rivalry game on Monday may have had the Rangers ‘underprepared’ for tonight’s meeting with the Wings, which explains the slow start. Remember, this was the Rangers’ one and only game against Detroit this season, so when you think about it, it’s not an easy one to get up for after having shed blood against the Devils just two nights ago.

Eventually, on the powerplay, Brad Richards tied the game with a coast-to-coast beauty that ended with a perfect shot through the five-hole of Red Wings goaltender Ty Conklin. The play started in the Rangers’ end, where Lundqvist came out behind the net to stop the puck. Richards picked up from there, immediately saw the glaring open lane straight up the gut, split the Wings defense and went straight to the net. Earlier in the year, Richards does not have the confidence to make that power move. But now, with 12 points in his last eight games, he didn’t think twice about it.

From that point on I thought the Rangers did an excellent job of maintaining a consistent forecheck mixed with smart defensive play in their own end. As I said in the pregame, it wasn’t going to be easy for the Blueshirts to generate prime scoring chances against the Red Wings’ top-notch defense. This held true in the actual game, but it was crucial that the Rangers continued to stick with it and apply pressure on Conklin. Conklin, I might add, handled the pressure extremely well for someone who hasn’t played in the NHL since early February.

Anyway, things opened up a bit late in the third period, with the game turning into a bit of a track meet. There were great chances on both ends for both teams to score, but the goaltenders forced this one to an overtime period, which was only appropriate at that point with how hard each club had battled throughout the night. I thought they both deserved at least a point tonight. 

The game-winner, like Richards’ goal, started deep in the Rangers’ zone. Once again, there was room up the middle and this time Brandon Dubinsky carried into the zone before eventually dumping off to defenseman Michael Del Zotto upon crossing the blue-line. Del Zotto then made a perfect pass to Ryan Callahan, who was entering the zone as a trailer on the play. Callahan, in order to heroically end his 27th birthday, sniped off the post and in from the slot to win the game for the Rangers, 2-1, over the Wings. 

Before this game even entered overtime, I had a gut feeling it was going to be Callahan, one way or another, that would win this game for New York. He was in one of his possessed moods tonight on both ends of the ice. He was relentless around the net and had a couple close calls throughout the night that very well could’ve been goals. He was also a beast defensively, as we saw on his diving backcheck play on Pavel Datsyuk late in the third period. And with tonight’s winner, Callahan is now ninth in the NHL in game-winning goals with 8.

Oh captain, my captain.

His entire line performed well tonight, especially Brandon Dubinsky. We started to see the old chemistry between Cally and Dubi reignite itself on Monday against the Devils, but it was in full force tonight. This is the best hockey I’ve seen Dubinsky play all season, as he’s finally gained some confidence with the puck on his blade. He’s making those strong moves to the net that we’ve seen him shy away from earlier in the year. Those two, with Derek Stepan thrown in the mix, could serve as a deadly second line to compliment the Hagelin-Richards-Gaborik trio come playoff time. Watch out.

The Rangers certainly were effective on the forecheck tonight, so they deserve credit offensively there. But when you look at this win as a whole, I think you have to point to their defensive efforts as the root of success. Led by the top pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, the Blueshirts gave the Wings very little time and space to make things happen tonight. Sure, Detroit had surges here and there, as expected, but for the most part the Rangers kept them quiet. 

Dan Girardi, by the way, was voted the Rangers’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy, which is awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the sport. With the minutes he’s logged this season, coupled with his contributions, I think it’s safe to say this is well deserved.

Lastly, Henrik Lundqvist deserves come credit for tonight’s win as well, since he did buckle down and play very well for the team in goal after allowing the first softie. I’ll be honest, I thought it was going to be ‘one of those nights’ for Henrik after the Zetterberg goal, but he was stellar after that, stopping 26 of 27. 

So the Rangers have now regained their three-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, picking up points 98 and 99 on the season tonight. Everyone has the Pens guaranteed to surpass the Rangers, but to New York’s credit, they’re not giving up so easily. And in my opinion, this is their most encouraging win in quite a while, and one that I believe they can build a serious streak off of to wrap up the regular season.

The East is ours. If the Pens want it, they have to come get it. 

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