Time zone changes, traveling, buses, airports, inhospitable arenas, unevolved fans (I'm looking at you, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). Add the momentum killers of back-to-back road games like last weekend's near zero trip to the Sunshine State and you know why fans dread these excursions.
But somehow, in nearly all of their road games this season (Philly being the noteworthy exceptions), the Rangers play decently and stay in games for 2 periods. Opposing team announcers highlight Henrik and Gaborik as the Ranger stars and keep thinking their home team will put them away before long. But the Rangers hang around. (In fact, overall, the Rangers have a 5-9-3 record when trailing after 2 periods.)
The 3rd period comes, the Rangers (a truly well-conditioned team this year) step it up and when the final whistle sounds, the Rangers are heading off the ice with yet another come-from-behind win or at least a point. Opposing fans shake their heads as unrenowned scorers with names like Stepan, Fedotenko, Christensen, Staal, Zuccarello deliver game-changing or killing blows.
An Obvious Question that the NHL -- teams, fans, announcers --For the Ranger faithful -- fans, pundits, writers, bloggers -- it has become routine (a happy one) to hear them celebrate the youth, the exuberance, the lunch pail mentality, and of course, the resiliency of this team, a resiliency that is all the more remarkable given the youth of the players and the injuries that have knocked out Drury, Callahan, Christensen, Roszival, Gaborik, and Prospal (we'll omit Boogaard) for weeks or months at a time.
keep asking about the Rangers: Who Are Those Guys?
keep asking about the Rangers: Who Are Those Guys?
Ranger fans, who have warmed to this team as it has played at a high level of competence for now more than half the season, have started to become more noticeable in the place that counts -- MSG was nearly totally filled BEFORE the National Anthem was played at Wednesday's home game with Carolina. Probably for the first time this season since opening night. Hell, I busted my ass in my aged chariot (do not equate those two) to get to the game and got to my seat 18 seconds before the Anthem began.
Ready for My Close-up. Fedotenko let Trevor Daley know
early on that the Rangers would be playing this game close,
attached to your ass close.
Friday night, the Blueshirts visited Dallas to play the talented Stars with their Pacific Division leading 52 points. After playing another in a series of playoff quality entertaining contests (think of recent games with Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Carolina), the Rangers prevailed in a shootout by the score of 3-2. The official recap is here.
The much ballyhooed return of Sean Avery to Dallas since his exile was an afterthought, probably enhanced by his recent mea culpa to the New York Post about his time in Dallas and the departure of Marty Turco and Mike Modano, his two nemeses on the team.
Henrik Lundqvist faced former Thrasher goalie, Keri Lehtonen, in what became an exciting evenly battled matchup. How even? Shots 31-30. Each team had a power play goal. Dallas took 2 one goal leads and the Rangers used their special teams to match them each time, the first with a SHO (the Rangers NHL-leading 9th) by Rouslan Fedetenko and then with a PPG by Artem Anisimov with 11 minutes remaining in the game.
The Rangers fell behind in the first period when Brian Sutherby scored with nearly 8 minutes gone after the Rangers failed to clear the puck from behind their net. The goal came a mere 30 seconds after Dale (not to be confused with Rolfe) Weise tangled with Dallas's bad boy, Steve Ott.
In the second period, the Stars were on the power play when a Stars' shot missed the short side and careened around the board to the blue line. Marc Richards, who was apparently skating off for a line change, let the puck continue past into center ice where Rouslan Fedetenko dashed over to grab it inside the Stars zone to start a 2-on-1 with Chris Drury. He looked off Lehtonen by staring over at Drury racing down center toward the crease before wristing a shot past Lehtonen on the far side to tie the game at 1 at the 2:49 mark. On the Stars' next power play, Dallas demonstrated how dangerous it is s they passed the puck around the Rangers zone and got the Raangers scrambling. Mike Riberio took advantage by shooting into an open net after Gilroy, Sauer and Lundqvist were out of a position at the 10:20 mark. The 2nd period ended with the Rangers trailing 2-1.
In the third, the Rangers picked up the pace which was rewarded when Brandon Segal was penalized for boarding Brandon Prust at 6:32. With 35 seconds to go in the powerplay, Lundqvist grabbed a clear in the right corner and saw Marc Staal all alone on the far right side coasting past the center ice line. Henrik hit him in stride with a rink-wide pass and Staal proceeded up the right side into the Stars' zone. He sent a pass to Anisimov in the center at the top of the right circle where he launched a shot that beat Lehtonen stick-side and ringed off the post.
Henrik now leads goalies in the NHL with 3 assists and notched an assist in consecutive games. The Stars had some serious chances during the remainder of the game but Henrik and the defense foiled them as regulation ended in a tie. Overtime was cautiously played as neither team had much success getting out of the neutral zone.
Coming into the shootout, so far this season, the Rangers had scored 4 shootout goals -- 3 by Eric Christensen, who is injured. So the questions would be whether Henrik could keep the Stars off the scoreboard and whether a Ranger could score. The Stars went first with Jamie Benn leading off. He lost the puck after trying several dekes and yet Henrik had to make a difficult save as the puck nearly trickled past his left toe. Derek Stepan's shot was stopped by Lehtonen's glove save. Marc Richards then moved in and blast a shot that pinged off the insider of crossbar as he had beaten Lundqvist high.
Next up for the Rangers: Mats Zuccarello -- the hero of the OT victory against Carolina --
From the center ice circle, he deliberately approached Lehtonen and first went to his right and then left, getting the goalie off his feet just enough (see how Lehtonen's center of gravity is compromised) . . . .
before bringing his puck to the left to beat Lehtonen to his right side. From the center ice camera, Zuccarello had opened up a significant part of the net to shoot at with his moves. The best part of the goal was how Zuccarello hit the brakes so that he did not collide with the goalie (as seen here). 2 games, 2 game winning goals for Mats.
Riberio had Dallas' final shot. He went to his right and tried to beat Henrik with a backhander but was denied by Henirk's glove. The Rangers had secured their league-leading 14th road win with a come-from-behind road victory.
It's amazing how the recent 2 victories (one inOT and the other, by shootout) can erase the memories of last weekend's losses. Much of the praise for the Rangers' success has to do with the defense in addition to some top-notch goalkeeping.
Defensive Surprises so far: Sauer & EmingerMichael Sauer and Steve Eminger have provided significant defensive support that was not expected when the season began. Eminger had more than 19 minutes on the ice last night.
The Rangers move on to St. Louis (20-13-6 and 9th in the West) to play the Blues tonight. The Rangers already have 2 points on this brief road trip and a victory in St. Louis would help buttress their playoff standing.
The Blueshirts trail Washington by a point in the conference standings. Who would have thought the Rangers could be so close to the elite at this point of the season? Teams have started to bunch up in the 5th through 9th positions in the East, so as it is with every NHL season, every point counts.
--- The Graying Mantis