Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rangers/Jets recap: Captain Cally burns Winnipeg

In his first year as Rangers captain, Ryan Callahan has gone above and beyond in meeting the requirements of a team leader. Whether it's blocking a shot, delivering a hit or scoring a big goal, Captain Cally has delivered. If ever there was a game that proved why the classic overachiever is the heart and soul of our first place club, it was on display in last night's come from behind 4-2 win over Winnipeg.

With nothing going right in what amounted to a dismal first half where the team lost discipline in falling behind two, Callahan took it upon himself to lift the Rangers with a great individual effort that led to a Mike Del Zotto shorthanded goal that turned the tide. Needing the game to keep any faint hope alive, the Jets used the momentum of some unnecessary Ranger penalties to finally go ahead by a pair. Spencer Machachek and Bryan Little had put the Manitoba hosts up a deuce less than a minute apart, turning hockey's biggest home ice edge into a frenzy.

It looked like it was headed for a rout when Brandon Dubinsky took another one of his mindless penalties, slashing a stick out of a Winnipeg player. Even though our penalty killing unit had more than done the job which included a lengthy five-on-three, you were waiting for the other shoe to drop. It never came thanks to Callahan, who outhustled the Jets down the ice, creating a couple of chances. The first which Ondrej Pavelec denied but the hardest working Blueshirt stayed with it, sending a backhand stuff attempt on the Winnipeg netminder which a cutting Del Zotto put home. From that moment, everything changed.

“The entire building felt it,” Henrik Lundqvist said while picking up career win number 250 after turning in a solid performance. “We started to get our game going. It was a big turning point."

“The turning point in the game really was the short-handed goal that we gave up because they didn’t have a lot of life,” Jets coach Claude Noel said.
Sometimes, all it takes is a hustle play to swing momentum. As Callahan has proven, he'll do anything to help our team win. Not surprisingly, John Tortorella kept sending him out, awarding him over 27 minutes. By far the most. Sure enough, the captain came through with the tying goal late in the second when he took a Marian Gaborik feed in front and slid the puck past Pavelec for his career best 28th.

“Our special teams need to be great in the playoffs for us to have success. It’s something for us to build on,” Callahan noted following a two-point night in which he did a bit of everything. “We showed character. We have been doing it all year long.”
Not coincidentally, there were no more Winnipeg power plays after Callahan set up Del Zotto for his first goal in 22. Speaking of the third-year blueliner, he also notched an assist on Callahan's PPG for his first multi-point game since Mar.4. A big positive for a key player who the Rangers need in the postseason. Despite his flaws, he logs important minutes and is our most skilled defenseman. He shot the puck more yesterday. Something that must continue for our power play to have success.

Brian Boyle's backhand from in tight eluded Pavelec early in the third, proving to be the winner. It was his third goal in four. Another positive. His play has picked up at the right time. As has been mentioned before, our team isn't the most talented. They need everyone contributing. Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko have been involved lately, which bodes well. And Brandon Prust is always working. Boyle also won 15 of 26 faceoffs in 18:05.

The Jets never recovered from Callahan's big play to Del Zotto. They once led in shots 15-4 due to five man-advantages. From that point, the Rangers outshot them 24-9 the rest of the way, getting back to the hardnosed hockey we're used to. That's how it has to be no matter who they face in the first round. They now lead the Pens by five points for the top seed and are tied with the Blues for the President's Trophy. Pittsburgh looks to avenge a loss to the Islanders tonight when they visit Long Island. Each rival will have five left following it.

Even more encouraging is that Derek Stepan got on the board with a power play goal that sealed it. He'd been ice cold and just hasn't looked right since being taken off the Gaborik line. Maybe the goal will get him going.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Marc Staal, NYR (3 hits, 3 blocked shots, strong throughout, +2 in 22:10)
2nd Star-Mike Del Zotto, NYR (SHG-snapped 21-game drought, assist)
1st Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (PPG, game-turning assist for MDZ SHG, 4 SOG, 4 blocked shots in 27:20)

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