Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Historic comeback rescues Rangers

At 3-0 down, it looked over. In a game they needed, the Rangers were all out of sorts looking up at a huge three-goal hole to a tough Bruins club set on adding another crushing chapter to a classic Original Six rivalry. When Chris Kelly skated untouched and beat Henrik Lundqvist shortside, it seemed insurmountable with less than half of regulation left. At that point, Boston won every battle, earning their big lead by going to the dirty areas to score the first two before Kelly surged past Ruslan Fedotenko and stunned an already antsy Garden crowd, who rained down the home team with more boos.

It would've been easy to say, 'It's just not our night.' On the Bruins' first pair, they scored right after the Rangers blew chances. All season long, that's not what this team is about. There have been few nights where our guys didn't compete with one coming at the hands of the Islanders a few days ago. If it's true they were sluggish in the second of another challenging back-to-back against a top three seed, you wouldn't have known it the way the Blueshirts responded to adversity. Led by Vinny Prospal's two goals, John Tortorella's scrappy bunch put together a historic comeback to stun the B's 5-3 before a raucous atmosphere at MSG. Never before in the unique 85 year history of one of the oldest rivalries, had the Rangers climbed back from a three-goal deficit to defeat the Bruins.

It’s a feeling that you can’t describe when you hear that many people going crazy,” tying hero Brandon Dubinsky said after scoring the third unanswered goal with 3:48 remaining off a brilliant feed by Ryan Callahan to send the Garden into bedlum. “We fought so hard for so many months and we needed these two points. That part of it makes it even that much more emotional.”
Dubinsky's biggest goal of the season wouldn't have been possible without the heroics of Vinny Prospal. A prideful man who fought tooth and nail to get back in the lineup after so many setbacks with his knee. At one point, there were even rumors that his career might be over. For myself, I never expected him to return because it sounded bad and I wanted to be realistic about the chances. I disagreed with my Dad whenever the topic came up. He maintained that the team would be better off with a more long-term view while I insisted that Prosp was an underrated cog who brings skill along with leadership. Never has that been more evident than in his play down the stretch. The 36 year-old Czech, who Mike Milbury mistakenly thought was part of Tort's '03-04 Bolts' Cup, plays with such enthusiasm that it rubs off on his younger teammates. After he scored off a goalmouth scramble 62 seconds later, steering home Wolski's rebound, he pumped his fists and was telling the guys they're back in it on the bench.

The joy Prospal has when he scores is so positive that it has to inspire the rest of the roster. It doesn't take much to inject life into a team that was skating in quicksand prior. Tortorella tried everything, altering every line in a desperate attempt to awaken his club, who knew full well that a loss would mean scoreboard praying. It would've allowed the Hurricanes to control their destiny.  

We didn’t want to have to watch and see what Carolina did (Wednesday) night,” Dubinsky said. “We want to keep ourselves in the driver’s seat.”
Instead, Tort found magic in a bottle with reemerging rookie Derek Stepan between Prospal and Wolski. The trio suddenly took over, scoring a huge second goal before the middle stanza ended. The play was made possible by a hustling Stepan, who beat a Boston defenseman to a loose puck, pushing it to Wolski behind the net, who then turned and set up Prospal in front for his second straight in 6:52. Suddenly, the Rangers were very much alive, trailing by only a goal entering the third.

Boston had only lost once in regulation when leading after two periods, bringing a 20-1-2 mark into the fateful final period. None of that meant anything. Even though the Bruins sat back, which drew the ire of coach Claude Julien afterwards, they reestablished their tight defense, keeping the Rangers on the perimeter while also putting together a couple of strong shifts with less than 10 minutes left. As the seconds ticked down, it looked like it would be another heartbreaking defeat on home ice where a poor start cost us. The Bruins even came close to scoring with Michael Ryder driving a long slapper off the crossbar.

Even more daunting was the inept play of Marian Gaborik, who went through the motions on more than one shift. Other than a couple of quality shots that Tim Thomas snuffed out in the first, he was invisible. Something Milbury alluded to on the Versus postgame. He was moved to Brian Boyle's line. Boyle also was having a tough night with his line caught on for Nathan Horton's 25th that saw all five Rangers standing around when the Bruins went in front by two. As fate would have it, the unlikely duo combined for the biggest goal later. Before they could, the Blueshirts still had to get it tied. With seemingly nothing working, Tortorella finally went back to the Draft Line, reuniting Callahan, Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov for a key shift. On a determined shift, they wouldn't be denied with Callahan sending a backhand feed in front for Dubinsky, who outwaited Thomas before tucking home a backhand to miraculously tie it before being mobbed. On the play, Marc Staal kept the play alive with a good pinch. Ironically, it was his great keep and pass that started the comeback. Without those two plays, they're cooked.

With the crowd now in a frenzy, Tortorella cameback with Boyle, Gaborik and Brandon Prust. On what appeared to be a broken play, Boyle took a whale of a hit to get the puck to Gaborik, who finally did something by sending seeing eye backhand pass that somehow went through to a pinching Mike Sauer, whose soft shot went thru Thomas' wickets just enough before Johnny Boychuk could keep the puck out. If they weren't crazy before, you should've heard them now. My Dad who was fortunate enough to go, said it was unbelievable. One can only imagine. Just seeing it on TV was enough to send me into a state of shock. My brother, who I watched a majority of it with had left to see our friend one last time before she flew back to Atlanta. Of course when it ended, I wound up there too. But I just wasn't leaving until I saw the end. Good thing too because I texted him twice and his response was, "Yes!"

"That was unbelievable,” a pumped Sauer expressed. “I never scored a goal and it got that loud, that is for sure. The boys were excited and the fans went nuts.”

Sometimes, it's moments like that that make you a fan for life. This is why we live and die with this T-E-A-M. Once up, they weren't going to allow the Bruins to tie it. Ryan Callahan sacrificed again by making a ridiculous diving block of a dangerous Zdeno Chara shot that unfortunately broke his ankle. Of course, everyone's favorite Ranger earned huge pops. Such a shame that a day later, we find out he's out between six to eight weeks but won't need surgery. If this team gets in and pulls a first round upset, who wants to bet Cally somehow returns if there's a Game Six or Seven in the Eastern Conference Semis? Don't put it past the heart and soul of these Blueshirts.

When Stepan hit the empty net, one of the most memorable regular season comebacks in club history was complete. It came at a price but this team's proven before that they can overcome obstacles. The latest challenge for the Rangers, who'll have to do it without Callahan with Atlanta Thursday and New Jersey Saturday both at home. Forget about what Buffalo does tonight against Tampa or what happens tomorrow between Carolina and Detroit. This win was our 34th in regulation/overtime, giving the Rangers a four point lead over the Hurricanes, who now have immense pressure. In fact, a Sabre win tonight and a Cane loss would clinch for Buffalo, who now trails us by a point for seventh. The Rangers are tied at 91 points with the Canadiens, who hold the tiebreaker and play their extra game tonight against a desperate Chicago team. The only way we finish ahead of them is by winning our last two or a complete collapse by Les Habitants. I'm not counting on anything. Let's just win out and silence the detractors.

Take care of business. It's all in front of them.


BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (tying goal-24th w/3:48 left)
2nd Star-Derek Stepan, NYR (ENG, assist, outstanding hustle)
1st Star-Vinny Prospal, NYR (2 goals-7th, 8th and tremendous energy)

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