Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Rangers thriving on the big stage
By Katie Strang
NEW YORK -- Call it what you will: A measuring stick, a heated battle between division rivals, or simply a big game.
Whatever test it was the Rangers faced against Sidney Crosby and the league-leading Penguins, they passed.
The Rangers didn't dominate for 60 minutes -- they had to fight to preserve a one-goal lead in the third -- but all their big-name players stepped up when needed in the team's 4-3 win over the Penguins.
And like they have in rattling off seven straight wins at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers found a way to come out on top.
Over the past three games, the Rangers have edged some of the league's best teams -- Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- to improve to 13-5-3 on the season and pull within three points of the Penguins in the Eastern Conference standings.
"It's good to know we can beat the best," said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 24 saves en route to recording his eighth win in nine starts.
Against two of the league's biggest stars -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- and a dangerously deep Pittsburgh team, it was the Rangers' marquee players who delivered.
Trailing 1-0 after James Neal's first-period power-play goal, the Rangers rebounded with a dominant second period in which they tallied four times. Brad Richards ripped a shot past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and picked up two assists for his second three-point effort of the season, but Marian Gaborik led the way in a dynamic performance that earned him the game's first star.
The 29-year-old sniper was involved in both of the team's power-play goals in the second period, picking up an assist with a great feed to Ryan Callahan at the right post at 8:01 and tallying his team-leading 11th goal with a persistent put-back at 18:26.
Coach John Tortorella said Gaborik was the best player (Penguins included) on the ice.
"I thought he was a force as far as his aggression with the puck, skating and testing people and backing them off," Tortorella said.
Tortorella bristled when asked how close his club was to becoming "elite," but the billing seems appropriate with the team's well-balanced scoring attack and ability to respond in big situations.
Top offensive threats Gaborik and Richards led the charge, but the team received contributions elsewhere as well.
John Mitchell lasered a shot past Fleury for his first goal as a Ranger at 14:09 of the second. Mitchell and rookie winger Carl Hagelin, who set up the play with a deft backhanded dish, have recorded three points in as many games since being called up from the AHL's Connecticut Whale on Thursday.
On defense, the Rangers' shutdown pair of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh contained Crosby and Malkin to three points combined.
Good teams thrive on the big stage, and that's what the Rangers did Tuesday.
"It's a good measuring stick," McDonagh said. "It's still relatively early in the year but we're coming along with our game. These last few games we've had great contributions from everybody and our big-time players are scoring big goals. That's what we're going to need."