The Rangers got rivalry week started off right with a 4-1 defeat of the New Jersey Devils tonight at the Prudential Center. This wasn’t a perfect effort for the Rangers by any means, but an explosive third period, which saw the team score three unanswered goals, carried them to victory in the first meeting with their cross-river rivals this season.
Mike Rupp and Cam Janssen renewed the rivalry right off the opening faceoff, dropping the gloves and tangling for an extended period of time. I was impressed with Rupp’s stamina in the fight – which he won – since his physical condition certainly is not at its peak right now having just come off of injured reserve after undergoing knee surgery. But he not only held his own, he dominated Janssen and landed plenty of punches before he actually did begin to exhaust.
The Devils scored first in this one, as Travis Zajac buried a third rebound opportunity with Henrik Lundqvist down and out at 15:51 of the first period. It’s a shame because the Rangers had played so well defensively to open the game, but the one coverage mistake that they made at the end there cost them a goal and forced them to have to come back.
That they did, but not until 17:28 of the second period when Derek Stepan fed Artem Anisimov with a pass out of the corner and into the slot, where Anisimov beat Marty Brodeur with a quick release. I’ve talked a lot about Stepan’s passing this season, and this particular play was just another example of how perfect it’s been. He barely picked his head up before dishing the puck off, but sure enough it ended up right on Artie’s blade.
In the third period, Marian Gaborik scored early to put the Rangers up, 2-1, after burying an Anisimov rebound at the goalmouth. That tally would be Gaborik’s 600th career point and 18th goal of the season. He would later score an empty-netter as well, so he was able to reach 19 goals before the night was over. That puts Marian on pace for exactly 50 goals this season.
Before the empty-netter, though, Carl Hagelin stretched the Rangers’ lead to two goals with a shorthanded goal at 14:42 of the third period. Stu Bickel picked up his first NHL point on the play, since he made the original pass up the bards out of his own zone, which Hagelin picked up and beat Brodeur glove-side with. That was Hags’ fourth goal of the season.
Despite the offensive eruption playing a major part in the win, I believe that the game’s MVP was Henrik Lundqvist in goal for New York. In the early going, you can argue that Lundqvist kept the Rangers in the game, because the Devils were coming hard and the Rangers were struggling to come up with a response. Lundqvist’s 30 saves, especially the ones on the penalty-kill, were the main reason the Blueshirts earned two points tonight.
I thought that the Rangers also played well defensively, even though they were without Jeff Woywitka and Steve Eminger, in addition to Marc Staal and Michael Sauer tonight. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh were unbelievable with how they were constantly breaking up plays and blocking shots. They gave Henrik Lundqvist plenty of support when it came to clearing away rebounds as well.
Michael Del Zotto played a smart game defensively, and I say smart because we’ve seen him do some pretty, well, dumb things over the course of this season. But tonight he made all of the right decisions, as did the rookie pairing of Tim Erixon and Stu Bickel. I was a little worried with those two paired together, but they did well together for just joining the squad in the past two days.
On offense, it was again the first line taking control tonight. Between Gaborik, Stepan and Anisimov, that line collected eight total points tonight. When you think back, they’ve been the longest lasting top trio the Rangers have had in several seasons now, and they deserve it. They’ve performed in all scenarios since being put together.
Dubinsky…. I’m really starting to think he is a lost cause. He’s trying, but he just cannot do anything right.
The Rangers are now tied with the third place Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference with 42 points and a 19-8-4 record. They will now head back to Madison Square Garden where they will face the Islanders and Flyers on Thursday and Friday before the holiday break.