This wasn’t the Rangers’ best effort of the season by any stretch, but no matter the circumstances, nothing seems to faze this team to the point where they give up hope. We saw that tonight when the team put on a gutsy performance from the second period on to defeat their division rivals in the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. That's a tune this team has sang time and time again this season.
Much like they did on Thursday against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers got off to a horrid start tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The first period was all Penguins all the time, and it only took them five minutes to get on the board ahead of the Rangers when Ben Lovejoy beat Henrik Lundqvist on an odd-man rush.
This goal prompted head coach John Tortorella to do something he has not done much at all this season, and that was take an early timeout. As you would expect, Tortorella ripped into his players as could be seen by the scarlet red color his face turned when his players gathered around to listen. It took them a while, but the Rangers finally established some offensive pressure after that and tied the game when Brad Richards buried a Ryan McDonagh rebound at 18:17.
Henrik Lundqvist was the one and only reason that the team went into the first intermission in a tie, but it was a position the Rangers didn’t mind being in after a poorly-battled twenty minutes.
New York turned things around in the second period and tightened up their game in every area of the ice. They also added to their lead at 3:09 of the second, as Ryan Callahan made a beautiful toe-drag feed to Brandon Dubinsky on a shorthanded 2-on-1 chance. As I pointed out on Twitter, this play was identical to the play made by these two last season when they defeated the Penguins in overtime, except it was Dubinsky feeding Callahan on that one. (video)
In the third period, the Rangers extended their lead to 3-1 when Marc-Andre Fleury’s hiccup while controlling the puck ended up costing his team. Actually, Marian Gaborik originally hit the post on the empty net, but Stepan was there to put in the rebound.
And from there it was all about defense and goaltending, led by Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist.
Starting with McDonagh, he was an absolute tank in this game. Like I said in the pregame this afternoon, there was going to be a lot of pressure on the Rangers defensively in this game, especially McDonagh’s pairing. Ryan was out there about every other shift and made a countless number of solid shutdowns. Also, he was matched up against Evgeny Malkin a lot tonight, and was able to hold the Russian sniper to just one shot.
When the defense wasn’t perfect in this game, which they certainly weren’t in the first period, Henrik Lundqvist was there to back them up with stellar goaltending. Lundqvist was really out to work tonight, having to make 37 saves on the 38 shots he faced over the course of the contest. Thanks to him, the Rangers had a chance to win after a miserable opening twenty minutes in the first place, so Hank deserves a boatload of credit for this win.
I also liked the game of Anton Stralman on defense tonight. He’s developed an aggressive edge to his game as each night goes on, and it’s made him a lot tougher to play against. I was questioning what purpose Stralman would serve on this team when the Rangers first brought him in, but he’s played surprisingly well as of late.
And now we are also starting to see the reemergence of the Ryan Callahan – Brandon Dubinsky duo up front, which has been racking up the points in recent games. Captain Callahan now has a seven-game point-scoring streak going. Pause for a second….. SEVEN games. That’s remarkable, and Dubinsky also has eight points in his last eight games. It’s been a lot of fun to watch those two since being put on the same line.
So yet another game in which, as Tortorella would put it, the Rangers “found a way”. The team has now won four straight games and nine out of their last ten to remain the top team in the National Hockey League. They are now off until Tuesday when the Phoenix Coyotes come to visit at Madison Square Garden.