The King has reclaimed his thrown. For a third consecutive game, Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant- making 33 saves in backstopping the Rangers past the defending champion Blackhawks 3-2 at The Garden. He was especially at his best late in protecting a one-goal lead with scintillating stops which included a sliding denial with under a minute left.
It meant a rare feat with our heroes winning for only the second time at home. Their losses have come to Toronto (OT), Atlanta and Carolina. It really makes ya wonder. Especially when they turned back as talented a team in the league. Sure. They wouldn't have stood a chance without Lundqvist, who truly was the last line of defense in a fun game his team was outshot 35-23. All that counted was the Blueshirts had the better goalie, just as in their 2-0 blanking of the Leafs Saturday. In the two wins, he's turned aside 69 of 71. That's what you expect from one of the game's top five netminders. It couldn't come at a better time with tough division road games on the horizon with bitter enemies Philadelphia and New Jersey this week.
Aside from the goalie, the club got standout performances again from Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan, who along with Russian linemate Artem Anisimov, combined for two of the three goals. Dubinsky scored his team-leading sixth and seventh while Callahan and Anisimov each had a pair of helpers. Without the Homegrown Line, they would be sunk. The good news is that Marian Gaborik began skating and isn't too far away. Perhaps his return could be what the doctor ordered for MIA Alex Frolov, who again wasted tons of ice-time playing mostly on the perimeter. Given how well Evgeny Grachev, Derek Stepan and Todd White played on what was the fourth line, it's hard to get why John Tortorella stopped rolling all four.
The strategy made no sense. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of tired shifts from our forwards while the fresher Hawks had us pinned in for what felt like an eternity. Or the 56 years it took my Dad's baseball team, the NY/San Francisco Giants to win another World Series. Congrats to him and all the fans who grew up idolizing Mays and Marichal at the Polo Grounds. Despite some scary moments, the Rangers fought for every inch of ice against a Hawk club that's just not up to speed. In a cap era, it's not easy when you lose key cogs like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Ben Eager. The lack of grit was evident. No coincidence that both Chicago goals came in the trenches. The skill of Jonathan Toews, goalscorer Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp was there but they couldn't get the puck past Lundqvist without traffic.
The guys in the classic home white and red jerseys with the cool Hawk logo controlled much of the first, outshooting the Rangers 13-7. However, the best they could do was a Tomas Kopecky redirect of a Duncan Keith shot for a power play goal at 17:13. The once little used fourth liner has been one of the bright spots and was in Lundqvist's face all night. With Erik Christensen off for high-sticking, Kopecky deflected Keith's blast home for the lead. Sharp got a secondary assist. Before they got comfortable, the Broadway hosts responded in the final shift of the period thanks to the Homegrown Line. Callahan started it but Dubinsky finished off his sixth from in front, steering a loose puck past Marty Turco at 19:39.
Neither Original Six budged in a good second that saw both goalies stand tall. The Rangers were better, generating scoring chances off the cycle with splendid work done by Grachev, who had his best game. On one shift in particular, the 20 year-old Russian rookie forced a turnover that nearly led to a goal. Too bad Frolov was the shooter. Anything he shoots turns to rubber. Brian Boyle also turned in another solid game along with Sean Avery. Hell. Boyle almost pulled off a toe drag but couldn't quite get the puck past a Chicago defender. Had he finished it off, that would've been sick. He sure is a different player.
Each club took only one penalty in the seesaw period that saw us hold a 10-8 SOG edge. The Rangers easily killed off an Avery delay of game for batting the puck out. It was an accident just like a few nights ago with Michal Rozsival. That rule really needs to be adjusted. It should be more on interpretation. Especially in such instances. It's ridiculous if a call like that decides an outcome. The way this league's run, no wonder Bettman is mocked when we go. At least it was killed. As they did in the first, the Rangers came on at the end, forcing Keith into a hooking minor with 21 seconds remaining. Dubinsky made him pay after intermission when he took a great Callahan feed and went top shelf on Turco for his seventh 55 seconds into the third.
Up one for the first time, they pushed for another but Turco kept his team afloat. Eventually, the Hawks tilted the ice, making life difficult on Lundqvist. It was going to take plenty to beat him again. A great backcheck by Toews resulted in Kane's equalizer. The Chicago captain stole the puck from Dubinsky and then worked the puck around to Keith, who fed Kane. His quick shot from a sharp angle with Troy Brouwer in front surprised Lundqvist, sending Chicago supporters into a premature celebration. There was one arrogant fan who stood up for as long as possible in our section, drawing even a 'Sit down' from me. I hate fans like that. You want to cheer when your team scores, fine. But don't keep standing there in front of us when play's continuing.
As fate had it, he got what he deserved. On the very next shift, a brutal turnover led to Christensen scoring his second just 28 ticks later. Mike Del Zotto pounced on the loose puck and fed Brandon Prust, who was strong throughout. The spark plug wasted no time dishing off to Christensen, who cut to the left and fired a perfect laser upstairs. At the time, I was mentioning how he really needed one. Like Johnny on the spot, Christy must've heard me from 411. Good thing too cause everyone was joking about how they never win here.
It didn't come easy. They killed off a bench minor for too many men and then withstood a Blackhawk onslaught the last eight minutes. But even in a period where they got half a dozen shots as compared to our opponent's 14, the Blueshirts competed. They forced Chicago to the perimeter and got their jerseys dirty, blocking 33 shots. Of course, the next captain Callahan was responsible for six including an amazing sprawling stop late in the second that hobbled him. He didn't miss a shift. Cally also came back hard to deny a pointblank opportunity, checking a Hawk in front before clearing the puck.
On a night he increased his point streak to seven (4-7-11) two days after scoring a beautiful penalty shot in Toronto, enough can't be said about the 25 year-old Rochester native. There's nothing he won't do to win. No wonder he's my favorite Ranger along with Tweep sarcasmpucktail, who I briefly chatted with between periods. She donned the jersey of her favorite player and also got to meet him afterwards. Not bad.
Dan Girardi, who again stood out defensively also blocked half a dozen- getting help from Rozsival (4) and Anisimov (4). In fact, 13 of the 18 skaters dressed got on the stat sheet. By comparison, the Hawks only had 15, meaning three of our players blocked more. That desire to do anything possible was the difference along with Lundqvist, who saved his best for last, robbing Kopecky from in front. Amazingly, he did it again on him when Girardi fanned on a puck, forcing him to take a penalty with under 26 seconds to go. However, the hustle of our PK helped clear the front of the net and then a sliding Dubinsky got the puck out ensuring a well earned victory.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (2 assists extending to 7-gm Pt streak (4-7-11), 6 blocked shots, 5 hits in 19:50)
2nd Star-Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (2 goals-6th, 7th, 3 hits, 9-3 draws in 22:02)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (33 saves, incl.13/14 in 3rd)