Though natural disasters have gotten the best of the Metropolitan area in recent memory, the New York Rangers took care of business against the cellar-dwelling Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
An early first period goal was all it took for the Blueshirts in defeating their Metro Division rivals. Just 4:10 into the session, Rangers’ captain Ryan McDonagh tickled the twine for the only tally of the contest.
As Derek Stepan controlled a Mats Zuccarello pass from behind the cage, McDonagh moved in and one-timed a shot inside the post from left of the slot to give New York an early 1-0 lead.
“I thought we had a good breakout,” said McDonagh. “I tried to beat my forward up the ice and we had possession (of the puck) …Step (Stepan) is great at finding the open man, I called for it, and it found the back of the net…It’s a great play by the forwards.”
The game also featured a match-up of backup goaltenders. Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Ward started between the pipes only 24 hours earlier for their respective squads. That set the stage for Cam Talbot and Anton Khudobin, who both turned in outstanding performances.
Talbot turned aside all 18 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season. The Rangers currently lead the NHL with eight total clean sheets in 2014-15. Meanwhile, Khudobin made 30 saves in 31 attempts.
Despite picking up the shutout, Talbot felt that there wasn’t much of a challenge. “It was a lot of fun, not a whole lot of work, so it’s always a good thing,” he stated. “The guys played really well in front of me and they didn’t give me a whole lot of quality opportunities, which is nice when you haven’t played a game in a few weeks.”
It can be said though that Khudobin stopped 29-of-31, but a video review overturned Matt Hunwick’s first goal of the year.
Nearly two minutes into the second period, Hunwick puck handled around Carolina defenseman Brett Bellemore, and subsequently appeared to beat Khudobin over the shoulder to give the Blueshirts a much-needed insurance tally.
The league office in Toronto, however, determined that there was not enough visual evidence to prove that the puck crossed the goal line.
“I didn’t talk to the referee that made the call on the ice saying the puck had not crossed the line,” Head Coach Alain Vigneault commented. “Shortly after that, I was told on the bench that the puck did cross the line and when I mentioned that to the other referee, he said that you can’t push the goalie in, which if that is the call, it’s the right call. But, if the call is that it didn’t cross the line and it did, I don’t know if it was the right call or not. I haven’t seen the replay, so I can’t tell you.”
The victory was the Rangers’ sixth in a row, and eighth in their last 10. It improved their record to 17-10-4, and moved New York into a tie for third place with their next opponent, the Washington Capitals, in the Metropolitan Division. With a game in hand on the Caps, the Blueshirts would have clinched the No. 3 seed in the division, if the Stanley Cup Playoffs started tomorrow.
“Every game is different and unfolds different,” said Vigneault in his post-game press conference. “We started off with a good pace and got some good looks. The only thing there was tonight was chip and chase, and it’s tough to get chances off that. We have to find a way that, even though you aren’t able to put it in, you are playing the right way defensively. We gave that team maybe five scoring chances tonight…We did what we had to do to win.”
“We were pretty good defensively tonight, “stated Rangers’ defenseman Marc Staal. “We didn’t give them much off the rush. To Cam’s (Talbot) credit, every shot that came in he swallowed. For a defenseman, that is huge. If there are no rebounds around, it makes things that much easier.”
Staal later added about the team’s latest efforts, “As a group, we have been better. There’s still some room to grow, and hopefully we can do that.”
Fellow defenseman Dan Girardi had similar comments to Staal’s. “We were pretty comfortable back there tonight. We were trying to make the skill plays, not just throw it off the glass every time we got it.”
This Rangers’ team doesn’t just want to get by. They want more. They want to hoist that piece of hardware that evaded them last June.