In a game, let’s face it, they pretty much had to win, they played with all those characteristics we’ve seen most of the year: The shot blocking, the body checks, the PK, the struggle to score, the sticking up for each other, the limping around (and they probably had to stop to fill up ice packs all the way home), the togetherness, the contributions from everybody, the great goaltending, the relentlessness, the skill in the shootout, the road warrior mentality, the resilience after a stinker … all that stuff.
I thought maybe the win in Pittsburgh was crazier to watch, and the Pens were at full strength and crusing, and the Rangers threw it away, then tied it, then won it … and the victory came on a hockey play, not a gimmicky contest.
But this win — in a great hockey game — meant more because of where they were, where they are, what they have left, and what the teams around them have been doing. Thoughts:
1) Credit has to go to the coach. Some people thought and felt that he was losing it, that he was becoming uptight, when he was terse and short (is that redundant?) with the media after the Islanders game. I didn’t. I thought he was cool and calm and he knew that his team would respond better by not being torn down in public, but by being built up the next day at practice. He has a very good read on his players’ pulse, an excellent read, and he understands what makes them tick and what makes them react. And the type of people they are individually and collectively.
2) Marc Staal=Monster. I know I take shots at the kid sometimes when he and his partner, Dan Girardi, get mesmerized by the puck, and it happened once or twice in this game, too, where they let an opposing forward stand in the slot unopposed while chasing the puck. But in this game, he was unbelievably good and strong and rugged. Girardi had one of his best games of the year, too. Somebody called him the Block Ness Monster the other day. He is. Sometimes, I argue, it’d be better if he didn’t stray so far to block a shot or pass, but there’s no argument about what he did yesterday.
3) Most of the other D-men don’t stray, which is why it puzzles me when the top two do. But Steve Eminger got caught away from his man on the first goal. Other than that, as a group, they were pretty fabulous, including the Baby Monsters, Sauer and McDonagh. And Bryan McCabe is really, really having a positive effect, and not just on the power play, where he’s no Brian Leetch, but he’s as good and as calming as they’ve had in a while. The top four D-men blocked 17 shots in that game!
4) That damn skills competition is a great example of why Wojtek Wolski and Erik Christensen are so maddening. I mean, give Callahan and Dubinsky, or Prust and Boyle, or Fedotenko and Avery those hands, and what would you have? Though I must say, Christensen was better during the hockey portion of the game yesterday.
5) And Marian Gaborik was very, very, very good. If Gaborik played like that every game, he wouldn’t be sitting at 22 goals, and the Rangers would be thinking who they might rest tonight instead of playing another death-match, must-win game against Boston.
6) Bad luck, good luck. The bad luck was when Ryan McDonagh was hurt by a shot and had to limp to the bench, leaving room for Nik Zherdev to score the tying goal. Not much they could have done there, except perhaps Brian Boyle reading it better. The good luck was when Vinny Prospal took the too-man-men penalty and then came out of the box to set up the Fedotenko goal. Gotta love the Prospal-Tortorella relationship. The coach was barking at him after the penalty and Prospal was barking right back, as they have so many times in the past. Tortorella knows he can give it to Prospal, and that Prospal can take it, and I think the coach actually likes it that Prospal will come back at him.
7) Henrik Lundqvist is just so freakin’ good in those shootouts. He was pretty darn spectacular during the previous 65 minutes, too. He admitted after the game that prior to the shootout he thought about the Game 82 shootout last year, and how he might have gotten out of the moment in that one, thinking of the consequences if he’d lost the shootout. And it helped him stay in the moment this time. Good stuff.
8) Brian Boyle took skating lessons last summer and look where it got him. Wonder, since he’s such a good student, if he’d benefit from boxing lessons this summer. Because if this guy can ever learn to fight to go along with his willingness and will, he’d really be a weapon.
9) Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan sure rebounded from that woeful 27-hour slump they had Wednesday and Thursday. They weren’t the only ones, but they were the most important.
10) You have to wonder, if the boys had played this way Wednesday, Thursday, if they’d be on the verge of clinching.
11) Don’t you hate guys like Zherdev and P.A. Parenteau, who are barely NHL players, who barely give enough effort to collect a paycheck, and become Rocket Richard when they play their old team? I do.
12) The Flyers’ PP is worse than the Rangers, at least without Pronger and Briere.
13) Here’s a question for youse: If you could trade yesterday’s shootout win for the Game 82 shootout loss last April, which would have put the Rangers in and knocked the Flyers out, would you do it?
14) I still have no use for the skills competition or the Bettman Bonus Point for losing.
AP photos, above.
Headed to MSG later today. Will have pre-game notes this afternoon, and the whole nine yards tonight.