As fate would have it, before I got down there for the fun festivities, Irishman Ryan Callahan had himself a game against the hated Flyers. Being that the Rangers hadn't come close to beating them since that cruel shootout elimination last year, perhaps they were due. The leader of this team made certain there would be no celebrating for any fans wearing orange who made the trip to MSG. Even better, it came on our kryptonite, national TV with the Blueshirts finally paying back Philadelphia for the five consecutive losses they had entering by a lopsided 13-4 tally. This was one John Tortorella's club had to have following a routine win over Ottawa. If they are to be taken seriously in this now chaotic day-to-day race with Buffalo refusing to lose and the Devils doing the same while Carolina gets points, it's now or never for our gritty club that can.
Having dropped four straight on home ice (gee what a shock), Tortorella went to his bag of tricks by opting not to wear the cool throwback threads- instead having the team wear the more traditional home white that now are road jerseys. Conversely, they've won three in a row on the road. So, it made sense for our tactical coach to treat this all important game like they were away. The move worked wonders as the Rangers came out and gave the Flyers a thrashing, scoring a touchdown and a PAT on the suddenly slumping conference leaders. Yes, this was the worst beatdown our team's dealt Rocky's Flyers since '92. But really, this wasn't just about how aggressive they were from the outset, winning every battle against one of the Cup favorites even if they were minus flu-ridden Jeff Carter and Sean O'Donnell. How many excuses could Doc Emrick come up with? I know the Devils are chasing us. But geez. Have you seen some of our injuries? I don't usually find fault with one of the classiest broadcasters but come on. NBC had to get that in there.
In any event, this game was about No.24 representing Broadway Blue. All season, Ryan Callahan has been a constant. If he didn't go down, this team wouldn't be nip and tuck for the final two spots but rather fighting for a middle seed. By the same token, you could echo that for Marian Gaborik, who even though he didn't factor in after returning from a concussion which he missed six games for- helped balance our lines out. Everyone was they needed to be with Gabby playing with Sean Avery and Vinny Prospal while Callahan stayed with cohesive homegrown linemates Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky. It also allowed Brian Boyle to reunite with Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust while Tortorella kept Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello and Wojtek Wolski intact.
Coincidence that they exploded led by Callahan's first career hat trick en route to a four-goal, five point game? On a day NBC rubbed it in by mentioning our first round futility, choosing Bobby Sanguinetti over Flyers' leading scorer Claude Giroux, it was the '04 fourth round gem that trumped the network and its production team. As hard a working player as there is, the heart and soul of the Rangers got his career day kickstarted when he tapped in a Brandon Dubinsky backhand feed 51 seconds in. He was far from finished, adding his second of the first when he caught Brian Boucher down and snuck a wrister top shelf for a power play goal. Prospal and Bryan McCabe set it up. Leading by two, Henrik Lundqvist robbed Kris Versteeg of a potential momentum turning goal. The ex-Blackhawk was all alone on a two-on-one but a sliding Lundqvist denied his low one-timer, earning the familiar "Hen-rik, Hen-rik" chants.
The best aspect of yesterday was the Rangers never let up. They forechecked vigorously with every defenseman getting involved. In particular, the play of rookies Ryan McDonagh and Mike Sauer who get better all the time. With a top four of Marc Staal, Dan Girardi along with McD and Sauer, how soon before our D is one of the best? Credit must be given to Glen Sather, Tortorella and the organization for finally keeping their word. It's been refreshing to see our kids grow up. Hopefully, Mike Del Zotto will come back a better player next Fall. I'd also like to see Matt Gilroy stay but we do have more kids in Connecticut. Ditto Steve Eminger, who's been a perfect soldier for this group.
The game opened up a bit in the middle stanza with each Patrick Division rival trading chances. On one end, Derek Stepan hit the post while on the other Ville Leino just missed. Finally, McDonagh and Fedotenko sprung Zuccarello on a two-on-one. Having scored in a 4-1 win over the Sens, the MZA didn't hesitate, firing a laser five-hole from the right circle for the big third goal. If there was any doubt, Callahan erased it thanks to an egregious error from Versteeg who overskated a loose puck in front of his net, allowing the next captain to pick up the loose change deke and fire top shelf for the hat trick that ended Boucher's day. As he was mobbed by teammates, piles of hats flew down for a little delay.
"When it rains it pours,” Callahan said. “We haven’t changed our style at all. I believed that goals would come. We just didn’t get the bounces. We stuck with it.”In between the fun, the Rangers stood up to the Broadstreet Bullies twice with Boyle stepping in for Gilroy to fight Jody Shelley and Dubinsky honoring Flyer captain Mike Richards' request by getting the takedown. This was the team we fell in love with. That's the one that must continue to meet every challenge in this dogfight for the postseason. Fourteen games remain with two pivotal ones in California versus Anaheim and San Jose. We'll see if our True Blue can pass the test.
The final period, it turned into a laugher with Callahan tapping home a Gilroy backdoor feed for No.4, also on the power play- allowing our favorite Ranger to reach 20 goals for the second time in his career. His high is 22 and 40 points- both coming in '08-09, which is the last time our club saw Spring. This time, Cally has 20 markers and 39 points in only 48 contests, epitomizing how much improvement he's made. There's no doubt he'd be chasing his first 30-goal campaign instead of new career bests in goals and points. Both a virtual lock. As good as running mate Dubinsky's been, he had gone eight straight without a point prior to Sunday. It's No.24 who is the lone constant that can be counted on every night. A player who reminds of what former disgraced Devil Jamie Langenbrunner once was. Only difference is Callahan plays more ferociously, finishing every check. He'll also hopefully never be traded.
Anisimov got into the act when he deked Flyer reliever Sergei Bobrovsky for a sweet forehand finish- making it three goals over four plus a helper, hiking his new career bests to 16-19-35. The maturity we've seen from the still 22 year-old lanky Russian is why he's still here instead of in Dallas. Hopefully, this trend will continue.
With the question becoming would Lundqvist record a season high ninth shutout, Zuccarello finished off his third in two games off a blind Wolski feed at the doorstep for the extra point with 73 ticks left. The Flyers made King Henrik make one more stop before the buzzer. He turned aside all 24 for career shutout No.33 and summed up the blowout win over their enemy best.
“This one was a team effort. It felt like a playoff game in the first half. ...We need to build, especially from the way we have been playing lately.”
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (24 saves for season best ninth shutout-33rd career)
2nd Star-Mats Zuccarello, NYR (2 goals, 4 SOG, +2 in 13:30)
1st Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (1st career hat trick: 4 goals incl. 2 PPG, assist, 5 Pts, 5 SOG, 3 hits, +3 in 16:42)