Like we've seen so many times this season, the Rangers delivered exactly what the doctor ordered following a rough loss on Sunday when they defeated the Nashville Predators, 3-0, this evening at Madison Square Garden. From top-to-bottom, the Blueshirts' entire lineup contributed to tonight's win with great forechecking, solid defensive play, and in Lundqvist's case, spectacular goaltending. What we saw tonight are the New York Rangers that were so successful prior to last week's rough patch of games. This was the ideal way to kick off a tough week on the schedule without a doubt.
The Rangers did get off to a relatively slow start in the early going, but they found their legs eventually and started applying a lot of pressure on the Predators and goaltender Anders Lindback. They were finally able to get one to the back of the net at 6:15 when Dan Girardi's low shot deflected off a Nashville defenseman and past Lindback to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. With offense being so hard to come by for the Rangers as of late, I'm sure the message from the coaches tonight was to throw anything and everything at the net and see what happens. Girardi did exactly that on this play and it paid off.
I thought that the Predators did show some minor life after that, so it was up to Henrik Lundqvist to preserve the lead heading into the intermission. As always, Hank came through for the boys with some clutch saves that, if they weren't made, could've possibly changed the outcome of this game.
New York would strike again at 10:42 of the second period, as John Mitchell's quick wrister when peeling off the boards caught Lindback by surprise and gave the Rangers a 2-0 advantage. Once again, throw the puck at the net and hope for the best. That approach earned Mitchell his fourth goal of the season.
You have to give this guy credit because there were very little expectations for him when he was recalled, but John's been nothing but a pleasant surprise for the club since then. He's been impressive to say the least.
Lundqvist's best series of saves came right after Mitchell's goal, as the Predators poured on the pressure to try to bring themselves back into the game. He first stopped David Legwand on the breakaway and then denied the follow-up attempt from Patric Hornquist. If those saves aren't made the entire complexion of this game is changed drastically, so I think Henke certainly deserves a lot of recognition for his play in the middle frame.
From there the Rangers played a very strong defensive game, and were rewarded in the final minute when Ryan Callahan was given an empty-net goal to seal off the 3-0 victory. I say "given" because he didn't actually put the puck in the opposing net, but was taken down in the process of doing so, which is an automatic goal according to the rulebook.
Like I said, I think the Rangers' unsung hero in this game was Henrik Lundqvist. Yes, he received offensive support, and yes, the defense played very well in front of him, but he made key saves at key times to preserve the team's lead. The Predators were not about to back down at any point in this one, but Hank did a fantastic job of keeping them off the scoreboard. I guess by now, though, that's what's expected of him, so many take it for granted.
Defenseman Dan Girardi was also a (all) star in this game, and deservedly received the Broadway Hat for the first time this season. He continues to log in the big minutes each game and never shows any signs of fatigue or mentality change. He goes out and pours his heart into the game each and every night. In my opinion, he's been the team's second most valuable player this season behind Lundqvist. His All-Star nomination is well deserved.
I also liked the play of the two Brandons - Dubinsky and Prust - tonight. Dubinsky, especially, since it was his first game back from a shoulder injury. He was throwing the body around out there without any hesitation, as was Prust. Prust, along with partner Brian Boyle, also did a tremendous job on the penalty-kill tonight.
Overall, to take down a team that has won eight of their past nine games is as good of a confidence-booster as the team could've asked for following the debacle in Montreal this past weekend. They redeemed themselves well and are now prepared to go up against two major Eastern Conference opponents in the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. There's no doubt in my mind they can win both if they present an effort like tonight's.