Monday, January 24, 2011

Injuries Testing Ranger Character

Meet the walking wounded. Or in the Rangers' case, the skaters who are piling up on the IR. Injuries are part of sports. The Pens are dealing with life without the game's top player Sidney Crosby and finding out it ain't so grand. Yesterday, the Bears had to play the second half without Jay Cutler yet emergency third string QB Caleb Hanie nearly played unlikely hero with Chicago falling just short against archrival Green Bay.

There are always injuries which make life more challenging. Only the really good teams can overcome them and keep winning. Before the Ranger roster resembled the Connecticut Whale with Michael Del Zotto and Evgeny Grachev being summoned the other night with Dan Girardi going down and warrior Brandon Prust nicked up, they already were without key cogs Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky with spare parts Ruslan Fedotenko and Erik Christensen also out, plus Alex Frolov done. That John Tortorella's club have been able to keep it together is a tribute to this team's character which will keep getting tested with what's sure to be a tough visit to the nation's capital tonight with suddenly surging Alex Ovechkin and the Caps seeking revenge for a 7-0 humiliation last month.

So, it continues for the seventh seeded Blueshirts, who again found a way to win Saturday coming back twice in stunning the Thrashers 3-2 in a shootout with Selke candidate Brian Boyle tying it and shootout sniper Mats Zuccarello playing hero by faking Ondrej Pavelec out for the only goal, which Henrik Lundqvist made stand up. For a team that's scored two-or-less in 11 of their last 12 since the start of the month, the Rangers have managed to survive bringing a 6-5-1 mark into tonight's Versus showdown with the puck drop at 7:30.

We had many guys out,” Vezina hopeful Lundqvist stated after finishing with 20 saves including a stone job on Atlanta captain Andrew Ladd late in regulation to give his team a shot. “We tried to rebuild the team a little bit. We’re trying to get everybody on the same page.


We’re not in an easy spot, but we’re doing the best we can now to get points.
With a lineup that now features former Whale Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, Kris Newbury, Chad Kolarik, Jeremy Williams, Brodie Dupont or possibly Grachev who's fresh off a hat trick, these Blueshirts bend but don't break. No matter the adversity, they respond. Especially after a poor defensive effort that saw the Hurricanes blitz them 5-2 last Thursday with All-Star Marc Staal and Danny G with a rare dreadful showing. Not surprisingly, the Rangers were more focused and played with better intensity against another team trailing them in the standings.
 
When you twice battle back from one-goal deficits and allow only 20 shots with dangerous All-Star duo Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien hardly factors, it speaks to the committment of your team. One that never quits nor backs down from any challenge. Even if Girardi got tagged by Ladd after stepping in for Staal following a clean hit that caught his partner turned the wrong way stumbling into the boards, it was another team building moment. So, Girardi sits out tonight with bruised ribs and probably a busted nose from his scrap. Just last year, he watched Flyer fodder Daniel Carcillo suck Marian Gaborik into a one-sided fight. A humiliation he took a lot of heat for. Those days are over. These Rangers fight, claw and scrap.
 
With two more huge games before the break including the Caps later with backup Martin Biron getting the call against Braden Holtby before Tortorella comes back with Lundqvist versus the Panthers in a Garden match tomorrow, it's important for the Blueshirts to finish the month strong. They know they're in a heated race with sixth place Montreal, eighth Atlanta who were routed by Tampa Sunday and ninth Carolina who you never can can't out as long as Eric Staal, Cam Ward and Calder frontrunner Jeff Skinner have anything to say about it.
 
Every point is so valuable. The Rangers are finding a way not using the injuries as a crutch. They've rallied around each other to make sure a bitter ending last year doesn't get repeated. So, they'll skate, check and sacrifice until Callahan returns with target date Feb.1 versus the Pens likely. They'll continue to plug away until Dubinsky's ready. Girardi and Prust will be back because they're leaders who exemplify what it is to be a New York Ranger. An identity formed under one of the league's best coaches in Tort who's handled things much better this time. Even he gets it. It's about keeping everyone on the same page and having them ready to work. That's why they're one of the hardest working teams in the NHL despite the lack of finish with Marian Gaborik using most of his ammunition against lesser lites Edmonton, the Islanders and the Leafs.
 
At some point, Gaborik must pick it up and carry the load. Putting it on the shoulders of kids Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov won't work. Neither should Wojtek Wolski who's been good since he arrived from the Desert going 3-3-6 over seven contests. On this team, everyone contributes. McDonagh already evolving into a steady defenseman since Michal Rozsival exited stage left. Mike Sauer logging big minutes in place of Girardi to get the Rangers a 'W.' Newbury playing gritty bumping into anyone in his way while winning board battles. And Kolarik notching his first NHL point.
 
In every sense, this is a T-E-A-M. Exactly how Tortorella wants it. One True Blue faithful can be proud of. The job isn't done.

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