All alone against Hurricanes goaltender Dan Ellis with the prospect of single-handedly snapping the Rangers’ three-game losing streak, J.T. Miller didn’t deliver a deft backhander or a surgical snapshot, but he won the game nonetheless to give the Rangers a much-needed 2-1 shootout victory against Carolina Monday at Madison Square Garden.
The 20-year-old rookie actually lost the puck for a split second before recovering to skate wide and put home a sharp-angle shot in the third round of the shootout. Rick Nash also beat Ellis in the first round and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stood tall as the Rangers picked up a crucial two points at home and moved into ninth place in the East.
Coach John Tortorella said he was simply confident that Miller was "going to make a play."
"He was going so slow I think he missed it three or four times before he scored," Tortorella joked. "He has some jam that way. He looks to make a play in the game."
"It certainly wasn’t a great move," Tortorella said, "but you give him credit just for having the [guts] to hold onto it and keeping it to put it in the net."
Miller had only been used in the shootout once before -- he fanned on an attempt in Ottawa -- and was trying to use the same move Monday against Ellis.
"It’s awesome, obviously," Miller said of being put in that situation. "I’ve tried the shootout before. I’m not superb at them, but I have a few moves so the fact that he has a little faith in me there means a lot."
After coming out sluggish in the first twenty minutes, the Rangers re-racked during intermission to create and sustain pressure in the second period. That paid dividends, as they tied the game on Derek Stepan’s equalizer at 11:06.
It was a turning point of the game, and considering the dire straits the team faced following an abysmal four-game road trip, quite possibly a turning point of the season.
"I thought we got a little bit harder on the forecheck, we started getting pucks more deep and controlled them in their end," captain Ryan Callahan said. "I don’t think we spent enough in their end, obviously, in the first period. When we did that I though we built off of it."
Callahan’s line with Stepan and speedy winger Carl Hagelin was a productive one again. Even immediately after the game, Tortorella said he liked what he got from the trio, whereas he deferred evaluating the front-loaded first line of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Rick Nash until he watches the tape.
Lundqvist snapped his own personal four-game losing streak with a terrific 29-save effort.
"I’m going to enjoy this for sure," Lundqvist said of savoring the win despite the quick turnaround against the New Jersey Devils Tuesday in Newark. "It’s been a while since we’ve had this feeling."
The Rangers can’t waste too much time relishing the win, however, as they travel to New Jersey Tuesday for a re-match of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.
The stakes are a little different now -- the 8th place Devils and 9th place Rangers are separated by a mere two points in the standings -- but important all the same.
"Obviously the two points are the big thing but on top of that we’ve got to go into Jersey and get another two points," Callahan said. "It means nothing if we don’t back it up in Jersey."