Since winning games in bunches like they have for the past month and a half became common, one thing the New York Rangers have done very well is bouncing back after losses. Earlier in the week, the Blueshirts lost two close games to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, but rebounded this weekend with back-to-back complete defeats of the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers. That is always a trait of the league’s best teams, and the Rangers have established themselves as just that with the way they’ve been playing as of late.
The Rangers came out and dominated this game from the opening faceoff, which was a bit surprising considering they were involved in a spirited match-up in Buffalo just 24 hours earlier. Brad Richards opened the scoring at 11:40 of the first period with a powerplay goal to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. A few minutes later, Artem Anisimov deposited an Erik Christensen rebound to put the Blueshirts up by two with his sixth goal of the season. Note that Artie’s reaction to the goal consisted of a simply first-pump; no rifle this time around.
With just two minutes remaining in the first period, Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson answered back with his first NHL goal to cut into the Rangers’ lead, 2-1. Henrik Lundqvist was screened on the play and was never given ample time to pick-up Gudbranson’s slapper from the point, but even still, Henrik dropped down to his knees way too early.
New York opened the game up in the second period, and it all began with Derek Stepan’s tremendous effort at the very end of a penalty-kill. Stepan intercepted the puck in the defensive zone, made a beautiful move through the defense and to the net, and lifted a shot up high over Jose Theodore for the 3-1 lead. This play was extremely reminiscent of the one we saw from Ryan Callahan in Buffalo the night before.
Midway through the second, Steve Eminger got on the board when his slap shot from the point deflected off a Florida defenseman and past Theodore. That would put the Rangers up by three goals, but they weren’t quite done just yet. Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan both scored rebound goals less than a minute apart from each other before the end of the stanza, so the Blueshirts would eventually head into the intermission with a dominant 6-1 lead over the Panthers.
In the third period, as you would expect, it was all about defense. Marian Gaborik was thrown in the box for a double minor after he lost control of his stick off the faceoff. The Rangers managed to kill off the four-minute penalty without much of a problem at all, and at that point it was set-in-stone that this game was far out of reach for Florida, who had their point streak cut short tonight.
Henrik Lundqvist had a very easy night in goal, only having to make 20 stops through 60 minutes. It’s difficult to stay focused when you aren’t seeing much action, but despite a dormant second period for Hank, he was absolutely on fire during the penalty-kill that opened the third period. Meanwhile, his opponent in Jose Theodore was eventually chased through two periods and replaced by Scott Clemmenson.
For obvious reasons, Derek Stepan is my choice for player of the game tonight. About a month or so ago, I wrote an article talking about how Stepan was in the midst of his breakout season while playing on a line with Marian Gaborik and Artem Anisimov. He further proved that tonight with two goals and an assist, and also some crucial plays on the defensive side of the puck as well. Derek now has 7 goals and 13 assists on the season, and also had his dad in the house tonight for this game.
And how about Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik? It seems like they get on the scoresheet every night and you know why it seems that way? Because they do. Richards has 12 points in his last nine games, while Gabby has 8 points in his last seven outings. For once, the Rangers’ top scorers are actually performing like top scorers. It’s been a while since the Blueshirts have had two of those in one season.
Michael Del Zotto and Steve Eminger had another great game on defense and offense in this one. They were noticeably improved on Saturday against Buffalo, and they took that a step further with another strong effort tonight. Del Zotto finished the night with an assist and four shots and goal, while Eminger had one goal on one shot.
I also liked Anton Stralmans’ game tonight. He’s improved a lot since his debut and it’s shown in his game. The Rangers, all together, have adjusted well defensively with Michael Sauer out of the lineup.
So with this weekend’s sweep of back-to-back games, the Rangers have now tied the Pittsburgh Penguins in points, but technically surpass them for fourth place since they have played fewer games. At the same time, New York only trails the conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers by one single point with a game in-hand. By the end of Tuesday night, this team could be leading the East.