The New York Rangers needed a response tonight and they got it. The Rangers needed two points to spread their lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the East, and they got them. The Rangers needed to clinch a playoff spot with a win against their rivals and they got it. Tonight’s 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden was all you could’ve asked for out of this team. From start to finish, it was a near perfect night.
The action in this game started before the puck was dropped for the opening faceoff. In order to fully depict the series of events that took place prior to the National Anthem, I must first point out that I was seated front row directly between the two benches tonight at MSG. Therefore, I had a perfect view of both coaches at all times.
So when John Tortorella completely lost his cool upon seeing Pete Deboer's goon-stacked starting lineup, I was right in the middle of the heated exchange of words. I'm quite sure it was right when Cam Janssen took the ice that Tortorella quickly bolted to the end of the Rangers' bench and repeatedly shouted "f****** a**hole" in the direction of Deboer, which received a calmer, but still heated retaliation from Deboer and his staff.
Things quieted before the National Anthem and the opening faceoff, but the hatred reached a new level when three fights broke out just a few seconds into the game. Stu Bickel, Mike Rupp and Brandon Prust all paired up with a Devil, and all did just fine in their individual bouts I might add. Bickel even bloodied Carter, who ironically was the one to send Brandon Dubinsky out of the lineup earlier in the month.
Tortorella knew this was Deboer's intentions from the start, which was why he originally erupted. But Torts raged on after the opening fights, grabbing the stick out of Brad Richards' hands and repeatedly slamming it against the glass between the benches to get Deboer's attention (picture here). Once again, the curses and bitterness flew until all settled down between the two skippers for the rest of the night.
After all of this was concluded, by almost a miracle at that point, hockey finally began to be played. The early spark certainly benefitted the hometown Rangers, as they were quick to jump to a 1-0 lead in this one. At 1:11, Brandon Dubinsky beat Marty Brodeur on the rush for his eighth goal of the season. Although they were unable to score again in the period, New York maintained that momentum right on through the first 20 minutes and completely dominated the rival Devils.
The Blueshirts were back to scoring only 33 seconds into the second stanza, as Dan Girardi's shot from the point ramped up the pad/stick of Marty Brodeur to give the Rangers 2-0 advantage. That wasn't a pretty goal for Brodeur to allow, but neither was Patrik Elias' sharp-angle shot that beat Henrik Lundqvist not long after. It was bad enough that Staal and Girardi, the two defensemen out at the time, we're outworked for the puck, but Hank's miscue was even worse.
New York got it back, though, at 7:33 on Mats Zuccarello's second powerplay goal in two games. Brodeur struggled with the original shot from Brad Richards and the rebound trickled right to Zuccarello, who was waiting all alone at the side of the crease. Tortorella wasn't lying when he said Zuke is becoming a difference-maker with the man advantage. Believe it or not, his size makes him tougher to defend around the net, where he's scored both of his last two goals.
But the Devils had one more in them, again coming off a bad read by Henrik Lundqvist. Petr Sykora was the beneficiary on this one, but again we saw Lundqvist drop his shoulder against the post way too early to expose some net near-side. This is very unlike him, but as of late it's become a pattern.
Thankfully Lundqvist would not allow any more and would stay strong through the late minutes of the second period when the Devils had all of the momentum on their side. The Rangers were running around in their own zone and getting outworked, so it was crucial that they went to the locker room with a lead at that point.
They managed to do just that, and then would get an insurance goal from Derek Stepan late in the third period to secure the 4-2 win, as well as a playoff spot in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Henrik Lundqvist's performance is tough to judge in this game. He only allowed two goals in total, but both could've easily been stopped if he had stuck to the basics of the position. At the same time, he did make some key stops throughout the night, specifically on Ilya Kovalchuk. Overall, only allowing two goals in a 4-2 win is nothing to complain about, so I'm not going to harp on it. However, I expect Hank to improve down the stretch - his team needs him to.
Just like good old times, I think Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky were major spark plugs for the Rangers tonight. Both notched two points on the night and were tough to contain on the forecheck. I haven't been able to talk about Dubi and Cally as a duo like this since probably this time last year before Cally went down with a broken ankle. These two have chemistry and there's no denying it; it's just that it isn't always effective. Tonight it was.
Defensively, I liked the game of Ryan McDonagh as well as Marc Staal. The reason I say so is because each had their moments they'd like to forget tonight, but the way in which they rebounded and stuck with it says a lot. And how can you not recognize McDonagh when he was (successfully) defending against Ilya Kovalchuk all night?
Well, you guys wanted a response tonight and you got it. Like many of them were back in November, this win wasn't perfect but it got the job done. The Rangers have a playoff spot locked up in the earliest point of the season since 1992 and have increased their lead over the Pens in the standings to three points and their lead over the Flyers to five points. Everyone can now take a step back from the ledge and prepare for Wednesday's battle with the Detroit Red Wings.