In the pregame media scrum, New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella told the assembled press that they would not win this game 1-0. Well, after 60 minutes of playing time, the Rangers skated off with a 1-0 win over the NHL-leading Vancouver Canucks -- a team that hadn’t endured a regulation loss in its last 21 games.
Tortorella also said he doesn’t believe in statement games, but that doesn’t mean tonight’s clash with the Canucks didn’t serve as a measuring stick. And the Rangers more than measured up.
Apologies for the less-than-rapid reaction, but please direct your hostility towards the MSG Wi-Fi (as I did), which was wonky all evening. Without further delay, here’s how it all went down Thursday night.
For the second straight game the Rangers saw the second-string netminder from their opponent, with Cory Schneider getting the nod for Vancouver. It certainly was no insult to the Rangers though and it may not have been much of a step down from Roberto Luongo. One of the game’s top goalie prospects, Schneider is no slouch, and he didn’t face much work early. And when his workload escalated, he ramped up his performance in kind, recording 34 saves and robbing former Boston College teammate Bryan Boyle on at least one occasion. It was the first regulation loss for Schneider in 13 appearances this season.
Danger From the First Draw
The Rangers rolled their top line with Derek Stepan centering Marian Gaborik and Wojtek Wolski looking for some offense but ended up triggering a good opportunity for the Canucks when Stepan took a tripping penalty near the end of his shift and sending the league’s top power play unit onto the ice. The Rangers killed the penalty but spent most of the first period in their own zone until a flourish in the final few minutes began to turn the tide.
The spotlight has been shining on the young defense corps of the Rangers since the trade of Michal Rozsival, but against the second-highest scoring team in the NHL, they more than answered the bell. For most of the game the Rangers tried to match the third line of Brian Boyle, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust against the Sedin line, with Marc Staal and Daniel Girardi seeing the majority of defensive minutes against the twins. They established a physical tone and frustrated the Canucks’ top line with a relentless forecheck. Vancouver’s dynamic skaters saw very little open ice Thursday night.
It was pretty slow go in the second period until Artem Anisimov got hauled down by Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra on an odd-man rush down the left wing at the seven-minute mark. That gave the Rangers their second power play of the game and in turn Wolski’s first goal with the Blueshirts. The winger potted a rebound and brought the Garden crowd to its feet with what turned out to be the game-winning goal. Gaborik and Dubinsky earned the assists, largely for taking some timely whacks at the puck as it floated around the crease.
The Rangers kept flying and earned another power play two minutes after the goal and nearly made it 2-1 when Stepan beat Schneider from inside the left dot, but couldn’t beat the post. New York never let up and was outshooting Vancouver 15-4 through the first 14:30 of the period, riding a nice emotional wave sparked by their newest addition.
Kill Or Be Killed
The Rangers had to endure some unfortunate calls in the third that threatened to unhinge a tremendous effort to that point. Staal was sent to the box for retaliating to a blatant spear from the Canucks’ Alex Burrows in front of the crease (more on that in Notes and Quotes a little later). Then, with four minutes remaining in the second and the Rangers halfway through killing a penalty to Staal, Chris Drury reflexively batted a puck out of the air and over the boards. It was as unintentional an action as you’ll ever see, but it warranted a delay of game and gave the Canucks a two-man advantage for 47 seconds. The Rangers weathered the 5-on-3 thanks to some outstanding shot-blocking by Boyle … though he probably felt like one of those dummies CSI teams use for ballistics tests, absorbing three scorching slappers. In the end, it was still 1-0 Blueshirts with a now roaring crowd behind them.
Sealing the Deal
The Rangers sport a perfect 1.000% winning percentage when leading after two periods and they kept that mark unblemished. They could have drastically helped those odds had Boyle been able to stuff home a loose puck with Schneider out of the crease, but a pair of Vancouver defenders sprawled across the net, dragging down Boyle and keeping the deficit at one.
The Blueshirts would be denied breathing room again later in the period. About 12:30 into the third, a blocked shot at the point triggered a breakaway for Gaborik. The sniper deked to his backhand before bringing it back to the forehand and attempting to sneak it into the top shelf, but Schneider stayed upright, turned him away and kept Ranger fans gnawing at their fingernails.
30 for 30
By posting the bagel on the scoreboard, Henrik Lundqvist recorded his sixth shutout of the season and, even more impressively, the 30th of his career. He’s now tied for 37th on the all-time shutout list with Jose Theodore, Cesare Maniago and Roger Crozier. He is 12th among active goaltenders.
Do You Know What You’re Saying?
Note to fans: Just because a team is from Canada does not mean they’re Canadian. In fact, both Vancouver’s leading goal scorer, Ryan Kesler, and the man in the crease tonight, Schneider, were born in the ole’ U.S. of A. Likewise, tonight’s goal-scorer and goalie for New York, not American. So when you busted out the whole, “U-S-A!” chant, it may not be having the effect you think it’s having. Love the patriotism though.
Guess He’s Not a ‘True’ Yankee Yet
The Yanks’ recently signed free agent catcher Russell Martin turned up at the Garden tonight and was featured on the scoreboard to more than a few boos (even though he was sporting a Rangers cap). Maybe they were Mets fans warming up for this Spring.
After the game he roamed the Ranger locker room chatting in French with Martin Biron, where my esteemed ESPN colleague Lindsay Berra informed the new catcher that her grandfather, one Yogi Berra, was looking forward to riding him all spring training long. Welcome to New York, Russell!