Originally written on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 8/26/14

With the Pittsburgh Penguins falling to the Philadelphia Flyers on home ice earlier in the afternoon, the opportunity was there for the New York Rangers to clinch first place in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference with just a point in their game against the Boston Bruins on Sunday evening. Unfortunately for New York, they were unable to earn that single point and had their four-game winning streak put to a halt when coming up short to the Bruins, 2-1, at Madison Square Garden. It was a hard-fought battle from start to finish, but the Rangers couldn’t find the tying goal to get this one to extra time after a costly mistake in their own zone in the second period. Frustrating indeed. 

The Rangers couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game. They were energized, they dictated the pace and were also the first club to put a tally up on the board. Just under five minutes into the opening period, Zdeno Chara had a slapshot blocked, which would send the puck to a vacant center ice. Marian Gaborik, meanwhile, was quickly building up speed, beat both Boston defensemen to the puck and sent a quick wrister past Tim Thomas on a breakaway for his 40th goal of the season.

If there were one goal I had to pick of the 40 that symbolized Gabby’s season in a nutshell, that would be the one. Between his awareness, his speed and the wicked shot, there was no stopping him. When at the top of his game, all three of those things have been rolling pretty well for Marian this year. Also, he’s now reached the 40-goal mark twice in three seasons with the Rangers. Best free agent signing by GM Glen Sather since the lockout candidacy right there. 

Boston slowly started to wake up after the Gaborik goal, though, and they began to gain some momentum of their own in the second half of the first period. The Rangers held strong defensively and also received solid goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, so they managed to escape the first twenty minutes with a 1-0 lead. 

The middle stanza, however, was all Bruins. They began to overpower New York, which led to turnovers and penalties that would be costly. Four minutes in, Chara set up Dennis Seidenberg for a one-timer at the point, which was a play that stemmed from the Rangers coughing up the puck in the high slot. That one-timer whizzed through traffic and over Lundqvist to tie the game for the Bruins.

Later, at 11:52, Michael Del Zotto was sent to the box for interference to give Boston their first powerplay of the night. The Rangers had everything under control on the ensuing penalty-kill, until Dan Girardi found himself caught behind his own net with the puck and not an idea as to what he should do with it. His stalling gave Tyler Seguin time to swoop in and apply pressure, and the B’s went to work on the forecheck. The puck ended up at the side of the net, where Patrice Bergeron was able to stuff it past the goal line before Lundqvist was able to drop his paddle down to cover the hole. 

It all obviously began with Girardi’s mismanagement with the puck. This was a very uncharacteristic mistake by Dan, as he normally is quick to move the puck up and out while down a man. Instead, he just inexplicably froze and the Bruins pounced. That was mistake number one of two, though, as Lundqvist needs to make the save on the following attempt by Bergeron. There’s no excuse not to be covering the post on that play.

What makes it all even more aggravating is that this would be the game-winning play for the Bruins, being that they defended their 2-1 lead to the final buzzer. The Rangers pressed hard in the third and final period, outshooting their opponent, 19-3, but they just couldn’t get that tying goal behind Thomas. 

This is a tough one to swallow for sure, especially considering what was at stake going in.   

Henrik Lundqvist played well tonight, but for once in his career he was outdueled by Timmy Thomas down the other end. The reason for this is quite simple: Lundqvist faced thirteen less shots, allowed one more goal and that goal was soft, at least in my opinion. Thomas, meanwhile, basically kept his team in the game let alone defended their lead in that third period. He deserved the win tonight. 

In a close game like this, while the team should collectively be at blame for a loss – and they are – fingers are still going to be pointed. The proverbial finger is pointing in the direction of Dan Girardi tonight, because it was his miscue with the puck that ultimately cost the Rangers the game. He knows better than that in his own zone on the penalty-kill, so it’s only right that he takes some heat for his mistake.

I wasn’t thrilled with the play of Michael Del Zotto on defense, either. He was coming off maybe his best performance of the year on Friday night, when he sent two pucks to the back of the net in the third period, but he was far from that player tonight. His passes were getting blocked, he struggled to hit the net and he was caught a few times in his own zone. As he said before the game, you won’t have an outstanding game every night in this league. 

On the other hand, I thought Marc Staal really stood out in a positive way. He somehow finished the night with five shots on goal, which led the entire team in this game. His transition from defense to offense was very smooth tonight, and that allowed him to join the rush more often without taking major risks. This was defensively one of his better outings since returning to the lineup in January.

Up front, it was the usual suspects putting together offense for the Blueshirts. I thought both the first and second lines logged some quality minutes in this game, and both were very effective on the forecheck. Even the fourth line found themselves with some scoring chances earlier in the contest. The effort was there, but the execution was not.

The third line didn’t impress me, though, and center Derek Stepan was the biggest disappointment there. He’s struggled with the puck lately, but tonight it was quite evident that he has lost some confidence since being demoted from the second line. He was out there as an extra attacker late in the third period, and he made two or three careless decisions with the puck that had me wanting to pull my hair out. 

One, in particular, was when he hesitated to shoot while Tim Thomas was completely out of the crease after fumbling the puck in the slot. The cage was empty, yet Stepan held the puck in the circle and waited for a lane to become available. Yes, there were Bruin bodies there, but Step had Ranger teammates crashing as well. All he had to do was get that towards the goal and the Rangers would’ve had an empty-net scoring chance. Instead he held the puck and waited for Thomas to return to the net before shooting. That’s a lack of common sense.

But I’m not going to get too carried away here. It’s the team’s first loss in five games and it came down to a one-goal deficit they were unable to close in on. It indeed was a frustrating loss, but the Rangers still played relatively well and will have another chance to clinch the East on Tuesday in Philadelphia. 

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