John Tortorella wasn’t happy. If you tuned in here earlier, neither was I, nor should any other Ranger fan who watched that first period disgrace.
Apparently, it’s not the same old song anymore. The fiery Tortorella benched Nikolai Zherdev for the rest of the game getting the rest of his team’s attention. The fire was lit as they scored three unanswered in what amounted to the biggest win of the season, prevailing 4-2 over Nashville.
As noted earlier, it started alright with Zherdev helping setup Sean Avery’s first in his Ranger sequel. Tortorella wanted more traffic following a token showing in which Cam Ward blanked them. Interestingly, the team’s first three goals all were a direct result of players in front getting the uniform dirty.
On the opening goal, Zherdev worked the puck to Scott Gomez whose initial shot was stopped by Dan Ellis. But Avery stuffed it home for his fourth at 3:38.
Instead of building on the lead, penalty trouble put the Rangers in trouble. It started with a lazy Zherdev slash. Though it was killed, Markus Naslund followed the trend with a bad interference penalty. This time, they weren’t so lucky as Shea Weber took a nice Steve Sullivan feed and blasted his 18th off Henrik Lundqvist’s right shoulder and in tying the score.
Suddenly with momentum, Nashville continued to come on getting seven of the last eight shots. They would go ahead off a blatant Zherdev turnover. Circling the net like it was the Ice Capades, the enigmatic 24 year-old Russian forced a pass to a covered point which was picked off starting an odd-man rush the other way.
By the time it concluded, Sullivan, David Legwand and beneficiary J.P. Dumont combined for the go-ahead goal with the former Sabre catching a break when his pass banked in off Dan Girardi’s stick past Lundqvist at 14:56.
The period ended with the Preds beating a suddenly listless New York club to every puck on the forecheck. Perhaps that was the final straw. Who knows what was said or if anything was thrown.
Minus Zherdev, whose butt was glued to the end of the bench the rest of the night playing only 6:01, a different Ranger team emerged outplaying the Preds by a lot. Not only did they outscore them 3-0 the rest of the night but outshot the hosts 26-11.
With Tortorella mixing up his lines even giving Colton Orr a shift with Naslund and Lauri Korpikoski, the Blueshirts responded with two goals in a dominant second doing all the things required of winning hockey.
Some hard aggressive work by Avery created the tying goal. Forcing Ellis to move the puck, the turnover led to Ryan Callahan’s shot that Gomez deflected home for his 16th at 3:01. Though Avery didn’t get an assist, he deserved it. The Preds had no answer for him all night.
Suddenly, the Blueshirts began to take control forechecking the Preds to death. They still needed two gigantic saves from Lundqvist, who made NHL history becoming the first ever goalie to win 30 games in his first four seasons. Only required to make 19 saves, King Henrik came up with a couple that mattered thwarting a breakaway and then stoning David Legwand off a two-on-one.
The clutch netminding allowed his teammates to continue taking it to Nashville. Tortorella basically used three lines getting the trio of Gomez, Avery and Callahan out as much as possible. That’s how dominant they were every shift creating havoc. Not shockingly, it was their play that led to Marc Staal’s deciding marker.
Off a quick rush, Avery found Gomez for a point blank chance but Ellis padded it away. However, some hustle from Girardi kept the puck in leading to a quick shot from Avery from the slot that narrowly missed hitting the outside of the net. Avery and his linemates kept going with Callahan and Gomez coming away with the puck. While confused Preds looked for it, Staal quietly snuck in and fired a shot past a helpless Ellis for his first since Jan.28.
Gomez got the primary helper for his third point while Callahan added a secondary for his second assist.
Up one, the Rangers ran into some penalty trouble but a huge defensive play by Staal led to a crushing shorthanded goal. With Brandon Dubinsky in the box for high sticking, Blair Betts won the draw clean to Staal, who fired the puck around the boards hard. Due to the velocity, Ryan Suter couldn’t keep it in falling down leading to a two-on-one.
Betts patiently waited before passing across for Freddy Sjostrom, who wristed one upstairs for his first in nine games (sixth overall) for the huge insurance goal at 7:59. It was his second shorthanded goal of the season.
Of course, it didn’t come easy with captain Chris Drury taking one of those needless delay of game minors. But the aggressive No.2 ranked PK was up to the challenge making it a relatively easy night for Lundqvist. How many times have we said that this season?
Notes: The win was the Rangers’ fourth in five and allowed them to move back into a tie for seventh with Carolina, who fell in Dallas 3-2. They also got help from Buffalo, who got a big home win over Florida 3-1 to stay in the mix.
The Pens meanwhile used a three-goal rally in Columbus to steal a point losing a shootout 4-3. They’re sixth while the Canadiens are a point up getting a point in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders with Kyle Okposo getting the winner. It was the improving rookie’s fourth goal in four games.
Rangers (35-25-8, 78 Pts) have a huge home-and-home this weekend against the Flyers (36-20-10, 82 Pts), who were edged by the Caps 2-1 and are still catchable. The Blueshirts head to Philly for a Saturday matinee before returning to The Garden Sunday for an NBC Game. The two Atlantic rivals have four games remaining versus each other which could go a long way to determining each club’s fate.