Originally written March 28, 2012 on Blue Seat Blogs:
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On a night where the lowly Islanders of all teams were able to stop the freight train that is the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers gutted out a much needed win in Minnesota, 3-2 over the Wild, to extend their Eastern Conference lead to 3 points with 6 to play.  Brian Boyle had a big game for the Rangers, scoring a goal, winning key face-offs and playing a solid physical game.  Let’s get to the bullets… 1st Period
  • The first period started off physical.  Both teams are low-scoring, physical groups and they acted like it to start the tilt.  For the first 10 or so minutes, the teams traded pedestrian scoring chances.
  • As the period progressed, the Rangers started to sustain more pressure and create some decent scoring chances.  They fell victim to a quick whistle on a play where the puck was clearly loose in the crease, and by the time the puck had made its way to the back of the net, the play was long dead.
  • Marian Gaborik was flying during the first period.
  • The Rangers would finally break the scoreless tie at the 11:23 mark when a shot from Anton Stralman was redirected and a scrum in front of the net ensued.  Brandon Dubinsky got the shot past Josh Harding and Brian Boyle popped it in the back of the net. 1-0 Rangers.
  • The Blueshirts had two power play chances in the first, and the unit actually looked pretty good.  The puck movement was there and they were getting shots to the net.  Unfortunately, the results didn’t match up with the effort and the score remained 1-0.
  • The Rangers dominated the first for the most part, outshooting the Wild 13-6.  Josh Harding had to be, and was, the best player on the ice for Minnesota.
2nd Period
  • Brian Boyle took a delay of game penalty to start the 2nd period when Mikko Koivu pressured the big pivot into sending the puck over the glass.  The Rangers would fall into some bad shot blocking luck on the PK. Callahan had to play with a broken stick after blocking a shot, and Ryan McDonagh was left limping after another block.  Kyle Brodziak was able to pot a rebound on a shot that Hank would probably want back.  1-1.
  • After seeing the overall physicality wane in the latter half of first, it returned again in the second.
  • The Rangers would regain the lead on Marian Gaborik’s 38th goal of the season, off a beautiful feed from Brad Richards.  Richards won the draw and followed the puck down low, finding a lane to Gaborik.  Absolute thing of beauty to see Richie finding his game at the right time. 2-1 Rangers.
  • Shortly after the Rangers took the lead again, some miscommunication in the slot between John Mitchell and Mike Rupp resulted in a fantastic save by Henrik Lundqvist, and an interference penalty by Marc Staal.  This was a case where they were both looking for the other to clear the puck, and the whole play broke down.
  • The Rangers were subsequently burned on the ensuing power play by some beautiful passing by the Wild.  Mikko Koivu would eventually deposit the puck into a wide open net off a great feed from Dany Heatley. 2-2.
  • For the second half of the period, the Wild controlled the play.  They won battles along the walls and pinned the Rangers back in their zone for long periods of time.  It was a blessing when the buzzer went off.
3rd Period
  • Brandon Dubinsky, who had played a strong first two periods was rewarded by starting on a line with Callahan and Stepan.  Dubi was all over the place tonight and was rewarded for his strong play.
  • The Rangers looked like a team trying to hold onto the point that they would receive if this game went to overtime.  They were tentative in all areas of the ice, which led to some chances for Minnesota.  Hank was up to the task and made some key saves in the third.
  • The third continued in a fairly uneventful fashion until the Blueshirts struck with a little under 7 minutes to go.  Ryan McDonagh made a nice pinch and carried the puck down low.  He tried to throw the puck toward the net, but it fortuitously bounced off a Wild defender and right onto the stick of Ruslan Fedetenko.  He was able to beat Josh Harding on the far side and give the Rangers the lead and the win. 3-2 Rangers.
Goaltending Analysis
  • Josh Harding played an outstanding game for Minnesota.  He was square to the shooter at all times and made some tremendous saves.  Especially in the first period, the game could have been 3-0 Rangers, but he gave them a chance.  After spending his entire career in Minny as a backup, Harding looks to be ready to take the reigns as a starter next season, and I think he is going to make his future employer look very wise.
  • Hank continues his run of solid but unspectacular play of late.  The Brodziak goal was not a shining moment of his, but he seems to be rounding into form after his bout with the flu a few weeks ago.  He will be the backbone of this team in the playoffs, and he looks like he should be back at the top of his game just in time.
Random thoughts
  • Brian Boyle is a much better player when he plays with a physical edge.  The gentle giant thing gets a little tired after a while.
  • Although the Hagelin-Richards-Gaborik line hasn’t been as dominant as the first few games they are together, they continue to produce.  The Rangers will live or die offensively with this line come playoff time.
  • Very solid all around defensive game for the Rangers.  The PK had a rough night, but 5-on-5, they were incredibly sound.
  • One of the biggest problems with the power play this season is that they telegraph everything.  As soon as a Ranger touches the puck in the offensive zone, you know 100% whether they are going to pass or shoot.  There is no deception in their system whatsoever.  Part of what makes elite power plays elite is pulling apart defenses.  If they know you only have one option in your mind, they are going to commit to that option.  You need to get the defenders thinking about other directions you could go if you don’t want them to collapse on your desired lane.
  • Really?  The Islanders beat Pittsburgh 5-3? Really?
  • Ron Duguay’s hair and shirt were completely unacceptable tonight.  Nothing resembling a mullet and a plain white shirt?  ‘Cmon Ron, your better than that.
Right back at it tomorrow night against a Winnipeg team that is fighting for its playoff life and tough as nails at home.  Big two points on the line at 7pm.
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