NEW YORK, N.Y. (Feb. 27, 2012) – On Monday night, New York’s Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan netted a marker, and an assist apiece, while Henrik Lundqvist saved all 13 shots he faced, as the Rangers blanked the New Jersey Devils, 2-0 in an Atlantic Division rivalry battle at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. As a result, the Blueshirts continue to separate themselves from the pack in the Eastern Conference, improving to a mark of 40-15-6 overall. They also now sit with 86 points, and are nine points ahead of Boston and Pittsburgh.
“I thought it was a grind tonight,” Brad Richards said. “It was a playoff type of game, and it was going to come down to who scored that first goal…The way this team plays is very different from last year (with Dallas).”
New Jersey got the first chance of the game just 3:06 into the first period, as a trailing shot from the left circle nearly missed the top-left corner of the mesh. That would turn out as one of just three shots in the first 11-plus minutes. The Devils also snatched the first, and only man-advantage of the period, as New York’s Hagelin received a two-minute interference penalty. During the power play chance, Alexei Ponikarovsky snapped off a ripper from point-blank range. However, Lundqvist made a terrific blocker save to keep the game scoreless.
Hagelin would make up for his misfortune, as he got the Blueshirts on the scoreboard first with 3:01 to go. The marker was set up by a pass from Callahan, the Ranger captain. He found Hagelin in front from in back of the net, and the Swede subsequently jammed the puck by Martin Brodeur for the late tally. Dan Girardi also got an assist on the play. The Blueshirts would eventually take a 1-0 cushion into the first intermission. Through one period of action, New York and New Jersey each had four shots apiece. The Rangers also had a takeaway.
“G (Girardi) did a good job getting the puck in deep,” stated Hagelin. “The chemistry has been good. We have been between each other consistently. Richie (Richards) has been on me about my game lately, and it is a rewarding experience to have a veteran player, such as him, show me the way.”
During the second stanza, the contest certainly opened up, as action picked up from the get-go. This time, the Blueshirts had the first couple of chances early on, as a Girardi slapper, and a Marian Gaborik snapshot were routine stops for Brodeur with his pad. The Devils came back with a couple of opportunities, one of which was blown by New Jersey alternate captain Patrik Elias. With 15:13 remaining, the veteran center intercepted the puck on his backhand in the offensive zone for a one-on-one chance with Lundqvist, but turned it over.
Following the Elias turnover, New York got its first power play of the evening, off of a Dainius Zubrus roughing penalty. Richards nearly made the best of it with two shots from the point, but his attempts coupled with a rebound chance by Derek Stepan were stopped by Brodeur. Lundqvist returned the favor to the Devils, as he knocked aside an Ilya Kovalchuk shot from the slot, and froze a Zach Parise re-direction against the post. The period featured two fights from that point, and the Rangers went into the break with the same 1-0 edge.
In the third, the duo of Richards and Gaborik quickly tried to add some insurance for the hosts. Gaborik fired a pair of one-timers, but Brodeur closed up the pads on both attempts. For most of the stanza, the game was a back-and-forth defensive battle, with neither team getting much room. Head Coach John Tortorella said: “This happened to be a hard, fight for your rights type of game. It stayed in the trenches the entire way…Everyone protected the puck, and did a great job against the way…They all came together tonight.”
Both teams combined for just 28 shots, with New York leading the way, 15-13. With time dwindling, the Devils hoped to find some late magic, and light the lamp. Their best opportunity in the third came with 2:26 left, as a Kovalchuk sniper from the left circle, off a great toe drag, was gloved by Lundqvist with tremendous effort. The Rangers put the game away just over a minute later, as Callahan tapped home the empty-netter.
“It was just drag, drag, drag…You have to wait for the shot,” said Lundqvist about the save on Kovalchuk. “He gets right in front, and then shoots…I just guessed right with top corner.” In regards to the overall play of the squad, the Swedish goalie said: “This season has been pretty good so far. We try to play smart, and not make many mistakes. Our constant focus is to improve our game, and get better. The result always helps though.”
In addition to the win, Monday marked the National Hockey League trade deadline. With many rumors that the right-winger from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Rick Nash, was coming over to Broadway, the only transaction made by Rangers’ General Manager Glen Sather was a fifth-round 2012 pick to Chicago for defenseman John Scott. An undrafted player on the back line, Scott will provide depth, and strength, at 6-foot-8, and 270 pounds.
“I like this club a lot, and am happy that we didn’t lose any guys today,” said Tortorella in regards to the trade deadline. “This is a tight hockey team…The closest that I have ever had a chance to coach in my career.”
The Blueshirts are back in action on Thursday night when they open a short two-game road trip against the Southeast Division. New York will kick things off at the RBC Center against Carolina, before traveling to the Sunshine State for a 7:30 match-up on Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla. with Tampa Bay.