Originally written on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 12/23/11

This week was uber important for the Rangers since they would be going up against three rivals over the course of four nights, and to the pleasure of the team and the fans, were able to sweep and win all three games. It was the Devils on Tuesday, the Islanders on Thursday and now the Flyers tonight. With that, the Rangers have now moved into first place in the Atlantic Division and second place in the Eastern Conference.

The opening period of this game was much quieter than I think many expected it to be. The Rangers didn’t completely have their legs after an up-tempo match with the New York Islanders just the night before, and it seemed like they were just sort of hanging in there for the first ten or so minutes. The Flyers weren’t completely on their game, either, but they were winning battles and getting more pucks to the net than New York. In the second half of the period, though, the Blueshirts picked up their play and ended up evening the shot count at 8 before the buzzer sounded.

Neither team actually found the back of the net until 10:18 of the second period, which was when Derek Stepan beautifully deflected a Stu Bickel shot from the point past Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. About five minutes later, the Rangers struck again on almost an identical play, as Ruslan Fedotenko deflected another Stu Bickel shot past Bryz. The puck entered and exited the net so quickly that the goal was originally waived off, but counted upon video review.

Just 1:48 into the third period, Anton Stralman sent Marian Gaborik on a breakaway, and Gabby snapped a shot to the back of the net to earn the Blueshirts a 3-0 lead and also score his league-leading 21st goal of the season. Yes, you read that right; Marian Gaborik is your current goal-scoring leader in the National Hockey League. Impressive.

Gabby actually took a slash to the shoulder on the play, and was in clear discomfort immediately after it happened. He returned to the game several minutes later and, thankfully, looked fine.

Andrei Meszaros would end Henrik Lundqvist’s shutout bid midway through the third with a blast on the powerplay. That was answered by captain Ryan Callahan, who displayed quick hands in front of the net at 14:04 to put the Rangers up, 4-1.

James vanReimsdyk scored late for the Flyers, but to no avail as the Rangers would close out the 4-2 victory.

Henrik Lundqvist was saves on saves on saves tonight. Lundqvist, without a doubt, is one of, if not the best goalie in big games. He never lets his team down against top opponents or games that have high value to the Rangers, and that held true tonight in his 28-save performance.

You must applaud Stu Bickel, who recorded another two assists tonight at MSG. Many questioned the decision to call-up Bickel when it originally happened, including myself, but he’s been one of the team’s top performers since his first game. He fights, he defends and he contributes offensively. That’s more than what you can normally expect from a rookie defenseman.

And yet another strong game by Michael Del Zotto tonight. Again, Del Zotto has played exceptionally well as of late and has stepped in with some strong defense with his partner, Steve Eminger, currently out of the lineup. I know I’ve been hard on Del Zotto, but kudos to the kid for what he’s been able to do here.

All together the Rangers played a very strong defensive game tonight. They may have scored four goals, but to me, this win was all about defense. Jaromir Jagr was given very little time and space, as was Claude Giroux, and those are really the top two targets the Rangers needed to keep quiet tonight heading into this one. And remember, this is all without Staal, Sauer, Woywitka and Eminger.

It’s depth and dedication like that why the Rangers are in first place in the Atlantic Division.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!

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