Friday, January 14, 2011

Hey Tort: Yes We Can!

Entering yesterday's big showdown against the league best Canucks who came in having not lost in regulation in 18 games, Rangers coach John Tortorella didn't believe his team could win 1-0 over such a lethal opponent. Considering that goals have been hard to come by lately despite the Rangers' good play, you had to figure they needed to heed Tort's advice. Perhaps the fiery coach was just using a wise tactic to get this cohesive group ready to play.

It sure worked. In one of the most exciting 1-0 games you'll see this season, the Rangers responded again following a disappointing 2-1 loss to the Canadiens by going toe to toe with The Sedins and the torrid Ryan Kesler- coming away with a well earned shutout that felt like a playoff game. Dare we say Cup intensity?!?!?!?! Considering how well each team played along with how hard, this wasn't your normal regular season game. Even if unsung hero Brian Boyle's former college Boston College teammate Cory Schneider got the call over Roberto Luongo who was in the previous night in a win over the Islanders, it didn't change the dynamics. Not when the Canucks' superb backup entered unbeaten in regulation with an 8-0-2 mark, making it easier for Alain Vigneault to rest Louie.

The headline was how could our lesser skilled club slow down the high flying Canucks? They'd been a thorn in Henrik Lundqvist's side with our Swedish King having never won against them. That included an embarrassing blowout loss a couple of years ago in which he removed himself from the game, drawing criticism. Last night proved to be different with Lundqvist intent on making every big save after permitting Benoit Pouliot's winner from a sharp angle the other night. Indeed, the All-Star netminder was at his best turning away Daniel and Henrik Sedin along with Kesler and antagonist Alex Burrows, stopping all 31 his way en route to his league-tying sixth shutout and 30th career.

“Every shutout is important,” he said after recording his 196th win a Ranger, closing in on 200. “Even though there is a lot of hockey left, you want to keep your position in the standings.”

While Henrik made some awfully tough stops on tricky shots like a Kesler try that hopped forcing him to kick it out and another off a seeing eye left point shot with similar results, he also got plenty of help from teammates led by Boyle. His line with Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko had a rare off night versus Montreal victimized for the tying goal. However, they redeemed themselves with a virtuoso performance limiting the Sedin line to only six shots. Tremendous attention to detail along with physicality neutralized maybe the best line in hockey. In particular, Boyle had a night to remember coming through with an inspired penalty killing shift with the Blueshirts down two men thanks to a bogus call on Marc Staal after Burrows speared him in the jewel area, retaliating with a slash. As our coach put it, how two refs could miss such a cheap/dangerous play is beyond me. Disgusting. What made it even more galling was Chris Drury getting nabbed for an equally bogus delay of game when he made a great defensive play batting a pass with his stick in mid-air which unfortunately went over the Vancouver bench.

Protecting a 1-0 lead on newest Ranger Wojtek Wolski's first off a wild scramble in front on the power play, the defining moment of the game came on the next shift when the Canucks couldn't find a way to beat Lundqvist. That they only got four shots through was a credit to one of the game's best PK units which always does whatever it takes to get the job done. There was Boyle standing out with not one but two gigantic blocks still limping with the Garden in a frenzy. That kind of warrior-esque effort is what's made him a heart and soul player for this team. It's why his line gets so many minutes against top scoring lines and is out at the end of games, helping boost our one-goal record to 13-3-3. If that's not Selke worthy, then you need your eyes checked. In a star-cessed league where it'll probably be Kesler, Henrik Zetterberg and Mike Richards, Brian Boyle is a throwback resembling former Devil John Madden. He never quits. Neither does Robin sidekick Prust who can always be counted on to be in the right position. Whether it's playing physical or making a strong defensive play transitioning to offense like they did last night with Schneider beating Boyle with a sliding glove save, this duo epitomizes what the Rangers are. Perhaps they should share the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how well everyone played. Every Ranger contributed. Especially the fourth line of Drury, Sean Avery and rookie Dale Weise who is looking better, even coming close to his first goal. They don't see as many minutes but you wouldn't know it by how they work the corners providing a lift. It was nice to see Drury out in that final minute winning a big faceoff and then getting more stellar defensive work from Boyle, who somehow wasn't named one of the Three Stars. Yes, Wolski scored his first as a Ranger but even he'd tell you that Boyle deserved his No.2 Star.

What else was encouraging was that Marian Gaborik looked better with Artem Anisimov generating chances, including a breakaway after blocking a shot. But Schneider beat him, refusing to give five-hole. Every line is working right now. It's just a matter of time before they break out. Perhaps in tomorrow's Habs rematch with the Flyers the following day.

The defense played superb with Marc Staal and Dan Girardi getting plenty of support from improving kids Mike SauerMatt Gilroy and Ryan McDonagh. Steve Eminger was large again. So much to like about this team. A reason to cheer!

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