For 40 minutes, nothing went right for the Rangers. Despite leading in shots 14-10 speaking to how little action there was, they trailed the Panthers 1-0. Playing their second consecutive game in 24 hours, they looked sluggish. Unable to mount anything against ex-Devil Scott Clemmensen, it looked like they'd emulate their season and get shutout in a must win situation. But before Clemmensen could entertain those thoughts, it all changed 18 seconds into the third thanks to Marc Staal. The suddenly evolving third-year defenseman's spectacular end-to-end rush that resulted in his third straight game with a goal sparked his team to a big four-goal period en route to a come from behind 4-1 win over the Cats.
The biggest win of the season allowed them to pull into a tie in points (82) with the idle Flyers, who still are clinging to the final spot due to more wins. All eyes will be on Philly this afternoon versus Detroit on NBC. With Montreal blanking Buffalo 3-zip, they remained sixth with 86 points. Two better than a desperate Boston club that got two goals from Miro Satan, who turned back the clock by deflecting home the winner in a 2-1 overtime win over Toronto. The Bruins responded immediately to the Ranger comeback by pulling out a tough one at the ACC. Following a near miss from Mark Recchi, David Krejci won a draw back to Zdeno Chara, whose shot was put in by Satan.
If you didn't catch the Ranger game, it'd be easy to mistake the score and think it was a piece of cake. Anyone who watched or even attended as the building was mostly Ranger fans speaking to how embarrassing it is that the Panthers still have a team- knows better. Nothing comes easy for our Blueshirts, who took a first period nap before awaking to beat the Islanders a few nights prior. We warned that it would probably be tough considering that Florida has a few players that usually show up against us. With that in mind, John Tortorella didn't take any chances, opting to team Staal and Dan Girardi a second consecutive game against Panther top line Cory Stillman, Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton. After blanketing one of the best lines in St. Louis-Stamkos-Downie, the duo dominated by limiting them to only five combined shots and a minus-eight rating. Staal and Girardi each logged over 25 minutes, combining for a plus-five, five hits and six blocked shots including five from No.5 who almost became a Panther at the deadline. Sometimes, the trades you don't make work out for the best, proving this blogger wrong.
While each had outstanding games, the Ranger offense was MIA due to a stingy Florida D that limited their chances by blocking shots and taking care of the neutral zone. Despite four less shots, they led on Keith Ballard's eighth. A rocket through traffic that went off the crossbar and in just as Michal Rozsival's minor penalty expired. The Czech mainstay who's played well down the stretch, was off for a phantom hook that MSG's cameras were unable to find. The refs called something behind the play. God knows what it was. Regardless, Rozsival's undisciplined penalty hurt the Rangers, who to that point seemed incapable of mounting an attack.
Aside from the offensive struggles, the attention to detail wasn't there with an early bench minor on another regrettable change. How many times can this happen? And we thought it was bad under Tom Renney. Aaron Voros got into an early scrap with Nick Tarnasky exchanging well before landing awkwardly. He had to be helped off the ice. However, proving his mettle, the People's Champ would return and once again be instrumental. Friday, his sheer hustle got rewarded with just his second goal putting the exclamation point on a 5-0 rout of lifeless Tampa. In the fateful third, some more good Voros hustle led to the club's third straight goal, allowing them to breathe easier. For a great team guy who's only gotten into 37 games, he sure has made his presence known. Big tip of the hat to a guy we all wanted gone. Ever since Sean Avery went down, all he's done is step up providing a huge lift.
Voros is far from alone as key pickups Brandon Prust and Jody Shelley continued their inspired play with Artem Anisimov. It was the trio's hard work that led directly to Prust's decider with 10:24 left. Before we get to that, some kudos for Henrik Lundqvist who not only was on his 'A' Game but made the lone pass to an attacking Staal who skated between the Florida D before surprising Clemmensen that got things started. Who ever would've pictured a Lundqvist pass actually leading to offense? And Staal ain't exactly Brian Leetch. But if these three games don't show what Marc's capable of, I don't know what to say. He's always been a solid skater and now he's leading the charge in all facets. If Kris Letang can get $3.5 million, what might Staalsie wind up with? Let's forget that headache and just focus on now.
With the game knotted, Lundqvist came up with a few timely stops. Even if he didn't have to make many, only turning aside 19 of 20, he was as good as can be in his 13th straight start and 21st in the last 22. Alex Auld won't be seeing the net anytime soon with Henrik expected to go the distance. Four more to go which would give him a new career high in appearances (73) and match the most starts (72) in '07-08. One can't say enough about his professionalism. Win or lose, there's not a classier guy in the league. And this is our MVP who quietly is putting together an outstanding fifth season. I get on him plenty but let's give The King his due. Without him, we'd be dead last.
While Lundqvist took care of the crease, his teammates stepped up. More and more, you watch Prust, the more noticeable he is. How Calgary decided to include him with The Jokester for Ally and Higgs I'll never comprehend. The guy is pure energy and wins so many battles. He'll take on anyone, finish checks and outworks opponents. Now, he's scoring big goals on what's supposed to be our fourth line. Michael Del Zotto kept a puck alive and then threw it towards the net with both Shelley and Anisimov in front. Shelley got a piece of it allowing the puck to rebound out to Prust who snuck a backhand past Clemmensen to loud cheers from the Ranger fans.
“We weren’t happy with our first two periods. We were just average,” Prust said. “We were sitting on the bench and said, ‘Let’s get going.’ In the third period we were able to get in deep and do what we usually do, just kind of crash and bang and throw pucks to the net and it paid off.”
It injected more life with Voros, Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury combining for a second goal in 90 seconds. On a tremendous shift, Voros forced Weiss into a turnover at his blueline keeping the puck alive. His shot rebounded right to Drury, who deposited his 13th. The reaction by everyone was awesome. It's amazing how a couple of injuries to key guys (Avery, Callahan) has changed the look of the roster. Now, there's more grit and determination. Something they've lacked most of the season. The play of our fourth line, Voros and call-ups P.A. Parenteau, Anders Eriksson and Corey Locke can't be understated. What an eye opener.
Prust would take a roughing minor but our PK did what it had all night blanking the Panthers in four chances. With a minute left, a patient Gaborik scored into an open net for his 41st. He's two off his '07-08 career high 43 but the second point of the night allowed him to match a career best also from that year with 83 points (41-42-83). Eighty-three in 72 games including grueling Olympics. Not bad. There's still four big games left and you better believe the Rangers will need their most electrifying star since No.68 to come through.
“We knew the third period had to be our best,” Staal added. “We need the points, obviously, more than they do. We came out and had a great period and did it again. It was a big win.”
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Aaron Voros, NYR (assist, takeaway, fight, +1 in 11 shifts-5:44)
2nd Star-Brandon Prust, NYR (game-winner, 2 SOG, 2 hits in 20 shifts-13:32)
1st Star-Marc Staal/Dan Girardi, NYR (goal, 2 SOG, 5 hits, 6 blocked shots, +5 in 25+ Avg)