Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 4/23/12

Things were looking pretty glum for the New York Rangers after Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers suddenly found themselves behind the eight ball with the odds and momentum playing against them. But as this team has done so many times, they gathered their emotions, regained focused and rebounded in a must-win game to keep their season alive. The Rangers have not and will not go down without a fight, and now just one win stands between them and the semifinals. 

The game didn’t exactly start out how the Rangers had planned for it to, though. Just 5:47 into the first period, Mike Rupp was called for a very weak roughing penalty, which basically consisted of him pushing Zenon Konopka into the bench. How that is a penalty, I don’t know, and how Konopka’s retaliatory head-butt was not a penalty, I really don’t know. Regardless, Sergei Gonchar would blast home a slap shot on the ensuing powerplay through a double screen in front of Henrik Lundqvist. 

New York struggled in the opening period to generate a response to that goal, so it certainly appeared as if it was going to be another one of those nights. Something must have been said in the locker room during the intermission, though, because they came out looking like a new squad in the second period. 

Or maybe it was Brandon Prust’s fight with Chris Neil right before the first period concluded. Neil was running around, gooning it up as usual, and Prust finally would put a stop to it. He did not win the fight, but it was the heart he showed by engaging in it that rallied the troops. To me, that was the turning point of this game. 

Whatever it was, the Rangers skated with confidence in the middle frame, they pursued the puck persistently and they drew penalties. For the first time in three games, they had regained their swagger and put pressure on the Senators that the Sens have not felt in quite a while. This led to penalties, and the Rangers, for once, made their opponent pay with powerplay goals.

The first came at 8:25 of the second, when Derek Stepan tipped in his first of the playoffs. The play, however, was all about the orchestration by Brad Richards. Richards, with the puck along the boards, basically drew the play out in the air, pointing to the exact spot where Stepan should cut in from the point. Step followed direction and Richie executed the pass perfectly to set-up the Rangers’ first goal in 147 minutes of play.  

Later, at 17:08, again on the powerplay, Michael Del Zotto made a fabulous play to keep the puck in the offensive zone and then fed Richards in open ice. Richie had some room, walked in and fired a slapper through Anderson to give the Rangers a 2-1 advantage. Amazingly, scoring on the powerplay is as simple as that. 

Just over two minutes later, with the second period nearing its end, Derek Stepan made a seeing-eye pass through traffic to Chris Kreider, who picked a spot between Anderson and the post for not only his first career NHL goal, but what would turn out to be the game-winning tally. Putting Stepan and Kreider together, along with Ryan Callahan, was a smart move by coach Tortorella, and one that paid dividends in this game. Those two really played nicely together, and Kreider showed what he could do at the professional level. 

In the third period, it was all about Henrik Lundqvist and the penalty-kill. Twice the kill was called upon in the third, and twice they came up with a tremendous shot-blocking effort. Lundqvist was even better, making several outstanding stops to keep the game at 3-1. 

Late in the third, in attempt to find two goals, Ottawa pulled Anderson from the net for the extra attacker. With 39 seconds remaining in regulation, the Senators did get another goal on the board, but one that absolutely 100-percent shouldn’t have counted. During a scrum in the crease, not only did Chris Neil’s stick drag Henrik Lundqvist out into the slot, but Neil’s skate also clearly swept the puck into the net. Everyone saw it on the replay – it was a distinct kicking motion. Yet, somehow, the NHL found a way to deem it a good goal to make the game interesting. 

The Rangers went on to win, 3-2, anyway, so it has little importance at this point, but as Henrik Lundqvist said after the game, the fact that the goal was allowed is an absolute joke. The people reviewing the play up in Toronto are not stupid and know that goal was not legal, but again, an attempt by the League to screw over the Rangers. There is NO other explanation for that play. None, sorry. 

But we won’t focus on that and let it ruin our spirits. First period aside, the New York Rangers came out tonight and played New York Rangers hockey. They were relentless, they were physical, they drove to the net and they showed character in a win they had no other choice but to obtain. For those that gave up after Saturday, I am really wondering what is going through your heads right now. The Blueshirts defied the odds tonight, and the momentum is now on their side going back home to MSG for Game 7. 

I really thought the return of Carl Hagelin made a huge difference tonight. The Rangers clearly have missed his speed, and it made a big difference on that first line. Hagelin and Gaborik both had two shots (improvement for Gabby), and Richards had three shots with two points. 

Hagelin wasn’t the only youngster making an impact in the lineup tonight. Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan, as I said, were nearly unstoppable together. I thought that second line was the best as far as forechecking went, and the coach repaid them for that with loads of ice time. Stepan has been disappointingly quiet so far, but he came up big with three points tonight in his best game of the series yet. And for Kreider, he proved himself in this game. He’s more than ready for the NHL, he just needs the opportunity. 

Now while we celebrate this win and take a temporary deep breath, there is still one game that remains to be won. That will be on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in the Rangers’ first Game 7 in 18 years. The good thing? The Rangers, historically, have never lost a Game 7 at MSG. 

Believe. 

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