Monday, March 12, 2012

The Great Gabby delivers

The Rangers were in dire need of something. Entering last night's final regular season match versus the blood rival Islanders, they came in on a three-game skid, doomed by two third period collapses along with a no show at Jersey when the streak began. With the Pens nipping at their heels after posting another win to creep within two, the Broadway Blueshirts got peak performances from their stars to end the frustration in a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over the Islanders.

Whenever these teams get together, throw the records aside. Truthfully, the Isles are much improved this season. If not for a couple of awful finishes, including the Devil backbreaker a day earlier, we could be talking about all three metro area teams making the playoffs. Heck. The entire Atlantic for good measure. Sometimes, luck is a strange thing. Otherwise, Anders Nilsson would have two shutouts over the surging Devils. Instead, the Islanders did what they usually do, picking themselves up and giving our team trouble. Oh. Not in the way of shots with the Rangers doubling up in that department. But just being opportunistic to make this one part of the crazy rivalry.

The fun started minutes in when Michael Haley and Stu Bickel exchanged bombs during an entertaining scrap that got the building up. Haley was subbing for hit machine Matt Martin. You knew he'd battle someone. Bickel is always willing to go and certainly looks like our sixth D if Tim Erixon is recalled. Right now, Bickel has played better than Anton Stralman and Steve Eminger, who didn't see the light of day in the third. I admire Bickel for his toughness. Never afraid to take the body, he brings needed edge to our lineup. Without Mike Sauer, there's not enough of it to a blueline that's slumped.

Not shockingly, Henrik Lundqvist's play has also dipped. Sunday marked the fourth consecutive game he allowed three-or-more goals. He admitted afterwards that he fought it a bit but still came up large when the Rangers needed him. Oddly enough, our team hasn't been allowing many shots. Lundqvist was on the hook for three goals on 18 shots during regulation. Fortunately, his teammates had his back, which was refreshing.

The Islanders had us behind early when John Tavares banged home a P.A. Parenteau rebound for his 28th. The rush saw some nice passing as they flew past the Brian Boyle line, who weren't up to par defensively. Considering what John Tortorella said afterwards about Boyle playing hurt, it's no wonder his play has suffered. The culprit in Chicago who fumbled a puck that turned into a Hawks' Globetrotter set up for Patrick Sharp, has struggled mightily in his end. Why Tort tried to match Boyle, Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko versus the blazing Isles' top trio of Tavares, Parenteau and Matt Moulson was anyone's guess. They had issues all night defensively. The nice aspect for a character guy like Boyle, who I do like is that even with his shortcomings that also included an undisciplined boarding on Tavares, he always fights. It came in handy.

One of the guys I've been all over is Brad Richards. On this night with myself, Dad, Justin and Mike in 411, Richards was outstanding. He had one of his best games of the year, scoring twice and setting up Marian Gaborik's dramatic OT winner. You could tell from the outset that he had it going. Perhaps ending a goal drought with a late one in the recent 4-3 loss to the Hawks was enough to reinstill confidence. Sometimes, even a garbage goal can get a key star back on track. He also skated with constant Carl Hagelin and Brandon Dubinsky, who returned in place of banged up Ryan Callahan. Callahan is still not 100 percent from the shot he blocked in the Devil loss. Better to rest him. Mike Del Zotto also sat out again with a sore hip.

Despite trailing on the scoreboard, the Rangers generated plenty against Evgeni Nabokov, who made some sparkling saves. He finished with 32. A couple of Islander penalties late in the first finally resulted in Richards knotting the score. For what seems like forever, I've begged him to shoot due to his halitzer. This time as I joked sarcastically about our power play issues, he went end to end and beat Nabokov with a wrister with 1:13 left. I turned away when it happened and had to duck down to see the replay. No Islander touched Richards. It was brutal. They gave assists to Lundqvist and Stralman for breathing on the puck. :P

Despite outshooting them 11-5, it was tied. A loss of discipline from one of our most clean players ended up biting us a few minutes into the second. Stepan highsticked Parenteau, who got caught high and went down for a few minutes. It was kinda scary. I like to refer to him as PA Lemieux because when he faces us, that's who he turns into. Plus he is gonna command a lot on the open market. After skating to the locker room and missing a good chunk of the double minor, Parenteau returned. The guy has 46 assists. Must be fun playing with talent.

With our team having an inspired penalty kill, they were seconds away from getting it done. There were even "Let's Go Rangers" chants. Something that wasn't common. The atmosphere sucked. Too many people who came in late and couldn't find their seats. Not only that but they also would just go back to them while play was going on. Whatever happened to wait for the whistle? This is what Dolan wants. Great vision. :\ In any event, the Isles caught a huge break when Moulson banked home his 29th off a Mark Streit wild shot that caromed off the back boards. If it were comedy, our home ice played a bad joke. At that point, I was thinking, 'Not even our arena can help.'

Trailing again, the Rangers kept coming. The play of Mats Zucarello, who I've been begging for, was good. The pint sized Norwegian brought some spunk along with needed skill to our power play. Given another chance, he helped set up Richards' second with some smart play along the boards. Taking a pass from Gaborik, I yelled for Richards to shoot and he obliged by whistling one past a screened Nabokov. It was Boyle's big body that made it impossible for him to pick up Richie's 21st.

Following another strong shift that forced Andrew MacDonald into a minor, a Zuccarello near miss to an open 'mate produced a gasp. Then, at the tail end, an open MZA had a wide open shot but overpassed for a tough angle. Before you knew it, the Islanders had transitioned the puck up the ice and a pass went off a skate right to MacDonald, who came out of the box and beat Lundqvist on a breakaway. Now, I get that it was a quality scoring chance but it was Andy freaking MacDonald! King Henrik has to stop him. He's delivered all year. Just humiliating.

All our momentum was gone as the Isles took a 3-2 lead into the dressing room. The one thing I love about our team is their resilience. They're never out of a game. They came hard in the third and got it tied thanks to a Boyle faceoff win to Ryan McDonagh, whose shot was deflected home by Boyle for his sixth. The kind of goal we need from his line. Prust scored in the last game too off hard work. Hopefully, it's a sign of things to come.

With the game tied again, the Blueshirts had opportunities to go ahead but Nabokov made some tough stops, including a great sprawling save on Gaborik off a set up. Still, the Islanders gave us a few scary moments late with Tavares coming close only to see Lundqvist close it up. It would go to overtime. In it, the Islanders had a couple of great chances to win. First, Moulson found Tavares open with daylight but he missed. Then, Tavares abused Stralman and dished for Frans Nielsen, who was flat out robbed by a sliding Lundqvist.

Instead, the Rangers got a break when Travis Hamonic was nabbed for tripping. There was 2:02 remaining. At that point, I'm thinking 'Our team will find a way not to score and they'll lose in the shootout.' I was almost prophetic as they bumbled the puck around as fans screamed "Shoot The Puck." As I was headed down, I caught the winner on the screen. It took until five seconds for Richards to pass for Gaborik, who ripped one high stick side on Nabokov for a great finish. His 33rd sent the home part of the rivalry out of their seats happy.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Marian Gaborik, NYR (OT winner at 4:54-33rd of season, assist)
2nd Star-John Tavares, NYI (28th of season, assist-38)
1st Star-Brad Richards, NYR (2 PPG-#'s 20 & 21, assist, dominant)

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