Any Ranger fan can tell you who the real leader of this team is. In what's been the most challenging stretch of his career, Henrik Lundqvist manned up after yesterday's no show, taking everyone to task. In backstopping the Rangers to a badly needed 5-2 win over the Islanders in the Coliseum rematch, it was the King who stepped up, finishing with 35 saves- finally snapping the team's five-game winless streak (0-3-2). On an emotional day that began with a shouting match between healthy scratch Wade Redden and coach John Tortorella, the Rangers got back in the win column thanks to Lundqvist's heroics that included 14 saves in a lopsided first period that saw the host Islanders do everything but finish.
“It is late December and the important thing is for us to become a team and play as a team and play for one another,” a relieved Tortorella said. “I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet.”
Much like last night, they dominated early, outshooting their bitter rival 14-4. The trouble was Henrik wasn't cooperating, stopping the Isles in their tracks. Aided by the game's first two power plays, they built an early 9-zip edge. But a razor sharp Lundqvist wouldn't allow them to get a lead, flat out robbing Rob Schremp with a great leg save. It set the tone for the rest of the night in which his teammates eventually relaxed, even scoring twice in the troublesome first.
The entire first half of the stanza saw the common theme of the Islanders playing solid D while attacking at every opportunity. However, a Mark Streit holding minor handed the Rangers a power play. Though they took the collar in two chances at MSG, the PP had shown some life. A resurgent Ryan Callahan opened the scoring when he buried a Marian Gaborik feed in front with 6:24 left to give his team the lead. At that point, the Islanders held a 12-2 SOG edge but were behind. Amazingly, the Rangers came out with a two-goal lead when a stunning event took place.
Invisible captain Chris Drury- who many including us wanted made an example of along with a furious Tinman- actually showed a pulse by doing something he hadn't done since Oct.19 when things were much better. Yes, he scored a goal. The play was started by Michal Rozsival, who justified Tortorella's faith in him by playing by far his best game of the season. The much maligned defenseman who's the only one along with Lundqvist left from the 2005-06 post lockout team, made a great outlet to setup a two-on-one. Sean Avery's low shot rebounded off Dwayne Roloson right to Drury, who deposited it for just his third 4:50 later, emphatically pumping his fist in a rare show of emotion. At that point, I looked at my Dad and knew they were winning. Even if my brother wanted them to lose to see if the rumor of Slats getting the hook was true. Something I never bought anyway. Especially with the holiday roster freeze.
“It’s happened a lot of times in this building. They come out flying and we have a tough time settling in,” Lundqvist pointed out. “It was important for me personally, and for the team, to stay in there. I don’t know how we had the lead after the first period, but we did.”
Despite three penalties including an undisciplined bench minor which they killed off thanks in large part to Lundqvist, the Rangers led by two into what had to be a much calmer locker room. They had to know they were fortunate to be up. As both astute Islander 'casters Howie Rose and Billy Jaffe alluded to, their team could easily have been up 2 or 3-0. But not today thanks to the goalie, who played like a true captain. His big saves allowed teammates to gain confidence. With them still on a man-advantage, Callahan got his second only 27 seconds in when he took a Gaborik feed and came out of the corner untouched to stuff one past Roloson. It was his fourth in four games and fifth of the month. If there has been one positive, the alternate captain had been steadily improving. Now, he's getting rewarded and actually is up to nine goals. Second behind the Great Gabby.
Trailing by three, the Islanders didn't quit getting one back from Andrew MacDonald, who took a Streit pass and beat Lundqvist high glove for his first career NHL goal, slicing it to 3-1 with still more than half left. But in another good period in which they outshot the Rangers 14-12, the home club couldn't draw any nearer due to the goalie, who was at his best in the late minutes of the second, highlighted by a nice sliding stop of a Trent Hunter tip try from in front. This is what hadn't been happening during this stretch. But it also had to feel nice to actually have three goals on the scoreboard for just the fifth time in the last month.
The Rangers also played with more edge, making Islanders pay for coming near their meal ticket with even Rozsival getting involved. A refreshing change. Dan Girardi threw his weight around nailing Isles every chance he got and even Drury had a good clean hit. The ruggedness led to a five-on-three early in the third which they cashed. Already on the PP, after Lundqvist had closed the door on a Blake Comeau shorthanded bid, there was pushing and shoving. Frans Nielsen didn't like that Rozsival and Vinny Prospal shoved him away from Lundqvist, coming back with a punch with his glove on. It led to a scrum which resulted in one more Islander in the box. Though Rose and Jaffe had a point about how three Isles wound up in against two Rangers with Prospal somehow not while Mike Del Zotto was (huh), the original was going to Nielsen, which is why they came out ahead. On the ensuing PP, Prospal dished across for Gaborik, who buried his league-leading 24th, restoring a three-goal lead. Callahan drew an assist.
Finally in control, the Rangers added one more for insult when rookie Artie Anisimov abused Freddy Meyer and John Tavares for his first goal since Nov.23. The lanky Russian had fallen out of favor and been relegated to fourth line status. But all night, he played hard and finally got rewarded. Off a play started by Girardi, Anisimov took a Callahan drop pass and then went around Meyer powering his way toward the net before stuffing the puck past Roloson with Tavares in the background. A similar highlight reel goal to the two he scored in preseason versus Boston and Detroit. Amazingly, his six markers tie him with Prospal and deserving scratch Ales Kotalik for third most. Makes one wonder what he could do with more minutes.
“We played well, but Lundqvist obviously had one of his better games," a disappointed Tavares lamented after being held off the score sheet. “We played hard. It’s a little frustrating because this one we thought we could’ve had.”
To the Islanders' credit, they didn't give up. A nifty Nielsen redirect of an Andy Sutton shot got them within 5-2 with 4:46 remaining. Despite some solid pressure, it was as close as they got thanks to the game's First Star. Lundqvist. The passionate man who deserves the 'C.'
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Michal Rozsival, NYR (2 assists, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots, takeaway, +1 in game best 26:37)
2nd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (2-2-4, 1st career four-pt game, 4 SOG in 20:26)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (35 saves incl.14/14 in 1st, 27/28 1st 40 minutes)