It was quite clear going into this game that the Rangers needed to play better hockey, despite having won five of their last six prior to tonight. They did that and managed the blank the red hot Maple Leafs, 3-0, to again take over the top spot in the National Hockey League. For the first time in several weeks, the Blueshirts again played a complete team game, and as they’ve shown plenty of times over the course of the season, they can be very dominant when doing that.
The Rangers had a very active first period in the physicality department. Led by captain Ryan Callahan, the team was hitting everything in sight and was making sure to set the tempo right from the get-go. At one point in the opening stanza, the Blueshirts held a 13-3 advantage in hits over the Maple Leafs. One weakness the Leafs have acknowledged having in their lineup is size, and the Rangers made sure to exploit that from the beginning.
New York did not find a way to get a puck past Jonas Gustavsson until the second period, however. At 3:35 of that period, Derek Stepan led an odd-man rush that saw him skating alongside Wojtek Wolski and Mike Rupp. Stepan dropped to Wolski, Wolski gave it back to Stepan, and then Step sent it across for Mike Rupp, who one-timed the pass to the back of the net. Hard to follow? It should be, but that speaks to how well executed this play actually was.
The Rangers would strike again at 16:28 of the second when Brian Boyle’s long wrister beat Gustavsson to break a 22-game scoreless streak. Out of anyone in the lineup, Boyle was the one who needed a goal the most, and finally he was able to get it on a simple shot to the net through traffic. It was a perfect way for the Rangers to cap-off an absolutely dominant 20 minutes in all three zones.
In the third period, Derek Stepan found himself on the scoresheet again when he took a Carl Hagelin pass and made a slick move to beat Gustavsson to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead at 6:01. That came shortly after the Leafs came very close to scoring, but were not given a goal due to inconclusive evidence upon video review. To be honest, though, I do think that puck crossed the line.
The Rangers would eventually cruise to a 3-0 win over the Leafs.
I liked Marty Biron’s play in goal tonight, even though he was not tested all that much. When he was challenged, however, he was very strong in the net because the Leafs were coming very hard to the crease area. Again, Biron has been incredibly reliable when backing-up for Henrik Lundqvist this season, and that makes life for Hank and his team much easier. Aside from making 19 stops tonight, Biron also picked up an assist on the Stepan goal in the third period.
Derek Stepan has taken some heat as of late for hitting a slump, but he had an excellent outing this evening in Toronto. I felt like Derek skated very well tonight and that enabled him to earn more space and time with the puck. And when Step has space and time, he’s almost always going to make something happen. We saw that on both the Rupp goal and the one he scored on his own in the third.
Yet again, the Brian Boyle line was very effective tonight, even though the coach has previously said “that line cannot be our best.” It all starts with forechecking and relentless effort, and both of those were going for this trio all game long. They did lose Ruslan Fedotenko late in the second period due to back spasms, though. Fedotenko has played in every game for New York so far this season.
And on defense, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh were rock solid. They kept Phil Kessel quiet, they were very physical and obviously played a big part in earning Biron the shutout. Can’t ask for anything more than that.
The Rangers will be back at it tomorrow night against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. The Habs are a frustrated team right now, so the Rangers are going to need another strong effort like they had tonight.