Quick, come to The Rangers Tribune for your psychic readings before time runs out!
For those of you who don’t quite get what’s going on here, I devoted an entire article this morning to the recent formation of the new first line for the Rangers, keying in on Brad Richards and his ability to up his game at this time of year. Well, it just so happens that Richie and linemates Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin have my back, because they came out and scored all four goals in tonight’s 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden. I’ll admit that I am not the owner of a crystal ball, but how is that for timing?
It all began just 3:02 into the game when Marian Gaborik was in the right place at the right time to take a bounce off the backboards and put it past a sprawling Cam Ward from the side of the net. The Rangers were buzzing early in that first period, led by the fluid playmaking of that first line in the offensive zone, so it was no surprise to see one of the night’s top three to get on the board first.
Unfortunately the Rangers would get into some penalty trouble from there, killing their momentum in a way, but Marty Biron was rock solid in net on the penalty-kill. Biron’s taken a lot of heat as of late for his shaky play in goal for New York, but boy was he a stud tonight. He looked confident and calm in the opening period, which is normally when he struggles most. Maybe the fact that he had no time to really mentally walkthrough this one benefitted him come gametime.
It wasn’t until midway through the second period until we saw another goal scored, but they came fast and frequent from there.
First, at 10:12, Hagelin chipped the puck from below the hash marks out to Richards, who walked into the slot and sniped over the shoulder of Ward. Three minutes after, Hagelin again found Richards breaking into the slot, but this time made a jaw-dropping no-look backhanded pass from behind the net. Richards showed great patience with the puck and waited for Ward to go down, then fired and scored.
However, the Hurricanes would retaliate with back-to-back goals of their own to make this an interesting game for a while. Tim Brent scored the first by showing a resilient effort when he poked a loose puck past Biron from his knees in the goal crease. Then, just 1:33 later, Drayson Bowman scored on an odd-man rush that formed once all three Ranger forwards were caught deep in the offensive zone, making it 3-2.
At 3-0, it looked like the Rangers had this one wrapped up and would sit back on the lead in order to conserve energy for Thursday’s meeting with the Penguins. But Carolina is not a team to give up easily, and they deserve credit for putting the Rangers on their heels for a while there to make it a close game.
But that prolific first line found its way on the board once again at 13:00 of the third period. This time it was Marian Gaborik making the pass and Carl Hagelin taking the puck to the net to sneak a wraparound under Ward for the needed insurance goal. And really, there couldn’t have been a more fitting way for this one to end; the first line opened and closed the scoring in tonight’s victory, not to mention they also did all of the scoring in-between as well.
I’ll talk more about that magical trio in a second, but first, tip of the hat to Marty Biron. I’ve been harsh on Marty lately for his struggles between the pipes, and rightfully so. He was not giving the Rangers the goaltending performances that they needed out of their back-up, and this team is all about accountability after all. But Biron unexpectedly got the call tonight when it was announced that Henrik Lundqvist would be unable to start due to a case of the flu, and he came out and played fantastic.
I was talking to Mike, my assistant blogger on here, during the game, and we both agreed that being told on such short-notice that he would be in net played to Marty’s favor in this game. I think a major part of the problem lately with him has been his mentality, and that maybe he has been overthinking the simplicities of the position. Marty didn’t have time to do so tonight, and he looked very comfortable out there as a result.
But now to talk about the real show-stealers in Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin. The mix of speed and skill on this line makes them dangerous right off the bat, but then add in the chemistry that they have suddenly developed and you have one of the more dangerous first lines I’ve seen the Rangers put together in a long while. Just look at the no-look passes they were making to each other tonight – those sure as hell weren’t just dumb luck!
Hagelin’s been impressive ever since he was recalled earlier this season, but he’s playing his best hockey right now by far. At first his hands weren’t keeping up with his speed, but it’s all coming together now and blending nicely for the rookie winger. I think at times his speed overshadows how hockey-smart this kid actually is. Very rarely do you see Hags make a costly mistake out there, and at the same time, he’s always where the puck is going to be.
Gaborik, too, feeds off of speed, but his confidence with the puck has skyrocketed recently. Gabby went through a bit of a rut in February, but he’s heating up now and using that wrist shot of his a lot more often. Gaborik is the most dangerous player on the team when he shoots, hence the reason he has 34 goals on the season (just for less than Evgeni Malkin). And now that he has two guys in Richards and Hagelin who are constantly getting him the puck, he’s flat out deathly.
And last, but not least, first star Brad Richards. As I wrote about this morning, Richards is playing his best hockey since joining the Rangers right now. He’s picked up six points in his last two games, and also has a three-game goal-scoring streak going. This is his time to shine and he’s absorbing the spotlight right now playing with Gabby and Hags. He’s the one making that line go to be honest.
You know who else I thought played very well tonight? Ruslan Fedotenko. Feds sails under the radar a lot, but he was tremendous defensively tonight, and also skated well on offense with Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle. Yet another veteran stepping up at a crucial point of the season.
So the Rangers are 2-for-2 so far on the homestand, but their biggest challenge is on its way in the Pittsburgh Penguins. New York pulled 6 points ahead of Pittsburgh for the first spot in the East tonight, so the Pens will be hungry for a win in captain Sidney Crosby’s return at MSG on Thursday. What do I say to that?