NEW YORK, N.Y. – Tied at 2-up just 22 seconds into overtime, Derek Stepan took a cross-ice pass from Michael Del Zotto, and buried the game-winner into the top shelf of the netting on Sunday, lifting the New York Rangers over the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2, at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. As a result, the Blueshirts improved to a mark of 38-14-5 on the year, and now boast 81 points in the standings. The boys of Broadway have also won seven of their last 10. Meanwhile, Columbus fell to 17-35-7 overall.
In the opening period, it appeared as if it was going to be a defensive battle between the Eastern Conference’s best, and the Western Conference’s worst. Both teams managed just one quality shot for the first 15-plus. The Blue Jackets recorded the game’s first opportunity with 8:45 remaining. A David Savard shot from the point was blocked aside by Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Vinny Prospal, a former left-winger for the Blueshirts, then pushed the rebound through the crease, and away from the net. Columbus had four shots in the stanza.
New York looked to get on the board just after, but a Michael Del Zotto shot from the point was saved by Steve Mason, who came into the contest sporting a 7-21-2 mark and a 3.47 goals-against average. Seeming as if the period was going to end in a scoreless tie, Brad Richards would have no part of it, as he found the back of the mesh with 2:11 to go. That sent the Rangers into the first intermission with a 1-0 cushion. Del Zotto played the puck out to center ice for Richards, who one-timed a Carl Hagelin feed by Mason, for a goal-setting 3-on-2 rush.
In the second period, it started out as all Jackets, as they earned two power-play opportunities. Columbus was unable to come away with anything the first time, but made the hosts pay the second time. After a high sticking penalty was assessed to Marian Gaborik, Derick Brassard struck from the point just four seconds into the man advantage. After Columbus won the faceoff, Brassard fired the puck through traffic, and behind Lundqvist. The Blue Jackets looked to add insurance just two minutes later, but a Derek Dorsett attempt was kicked aside.
New York subsequently had its chance to re-gain the lead, as the Rangers received a two-man advantage for a minute-plus. The hosts were only able to muster a pair of Richards’ shots, while Del Zotto missed a wide-open net just after the power play ended. The Blueshirts would re-capture its single-goal edge at the 6:47 mark via a goal by Artem Anisimov. On the play, Dan Girardi put a shot off the glass that caromed to the other side of the net. Before Mason was able to retreat, Anisimov snuck the puck through, giving the Rangers a 2-1 lead.
From there, the momentum had swung to the home side of the bench. With 4:10 left, Anisimov just missed the net to the right, while a Brandon Prust short-handed try from the circle was saved in Mason’s pads. Before the period came to a close, Del Zotto had seemed to have given the Blueshirts a 3-1 advantage. However, upon review from the National Hockey League offices in Toronto, the puck did not cross over the goal line before the buzzer sounded. Through two periods, New York owned a 25-15 edge in shots, and a 6-1 clip in takeaways.
During the third period, the Rangers picked up from where they left off in the prior stanza. Looking to obtain a more comfortable lead, Mason, who posted 27 saves, denied several scoring chances. At the 11:02 mark, John Mitchell toe-dragged around a defender, and the Columbus goalie, but was unable to stuff the puck in. Under a minute later, a Del Zotto rip from the point struck off the chest of Mason, and landed on the very top of the goal.
Desperately needing a score to tie the contest, the Blue Jackets picked up its play at the halfway point of the period. With 7:43 to go, Anton Stralman put the puck out of play from the defensive zone, and was sent to the penalty box for delay of game. Rick Nash, the subject of several trade rumors, fired a shot from just inside the blue line, with the attempt finding its way into the pads of Lundqvist, who finished with 16 stops on the night.
Following a stoppage of action at the 1:37 mark, Mason was pulled for the extra skater. At the dot, Columbus’s R.J. Umberger won the ensuing faceoff right back to Jeff Carter. Carter subsequently gave the puck across the point to Nash, who ripped a shot over Lundqvist’s right shoulder for the equalizer. “He is a good player. It was a knucklepuck, rather than a clean rocket. It didn’t lay still,” said the Swede about the game-tying goal.
Despite leaving the Garden faithful on the edge of its seat for 60 solid minutes, the game had reached the extra period. But, a sell-out crowd would leave happy, as Stepan struck twine only 22 seconds into overtime. “It is a great feeling, especially at the Garden,” stated Stepan. “I was in the right spot. Mike (Del Zotto) just makes a perfect pass…I thought we did a good job for 60-plus. They (Columbus) have been playing good hockey.”
Ryan Callahan, the Rangers’ captain, had this to say about the effort. “It was important. We wanted to respond and had control in most of the first (period)…They (Columbus) are a talented team. They have skilled forwards and Mason played well…It is important to take each game seriously, and get the points.”
Head Coach John Tortorella said this in his post-game press conference: “There are no easy games in this league…We did not panic. It took a great play, as well as creativity to score that game-winner. I thought it was going to be close the whole way through with a regulation win, but we got it in overtime.”
The Rangers are back in action on Tuesday, Feb. 21, when they travel to Pittsburgh, Pa. to face their Atlantic Division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. New York currently leads the six-game season series, 2-1. In their last meeting on Jan. 19, Pittsburgh was victorious at the Garden, 4-1. The puck drops at 7 p.m.