The New York Rangers looked like a whole different team last night, but a team that seemed a lot like the one we saw climbing the standings last season. With Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, and Michael Del Zotto back in the lineup, the Rangers once again had a healthy roster ready to take the Tampa Bay Lightning by storm.
The players coming off the injured reserve added a significant impact to the outcome of last night’s game. McDonagh tallied two assists while Del Zotto was a plus-1, leading his team in ice time with 20:53. Rick Nash proved to have his best performance all season, despite coming back from an undisclosed injury. Nash contributed 1 goal and 1 assist in the 19 minutes he played, with 12 shots on goal last night.
“Nash was himself tonight. Him, McDonagh and Del Zotto are the three main cogs,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “Nash immediately had an impact as far as offensive energy and just doing some good things.” (NHL.com)
The Rangers proved to be relentless in the opening period. While Lightning goalie, Mathieu Garon, kept his team in the game, the Rangers challenged the Bolts’ goalie with 20 shots on net within the first period alone. The Rangers kept firing, and at 7:23 in the first, Carl Hagelin came knocking. Hagelin gained the neutral zone and held onto the puck as he moved outside to inside and slid past the Ligtning defenseman, Keith Aulie. Hagelin wound up to rifle a one-timer past Garon, getting the Blueshirts on the board. The first period was as one-sided as it gets. The Rangers came out flying.
The Blueshirts would score again one minute and 17 seconds later. Dan Girardi stayed active in the offensive zone, and played the puck down to Ryan Callahan in the right corner. Callahan made a play from behind the net to move the puck out to Derek Stepan. Stepan wasted no time, and roofed one past Garon to make it 2-0 Rangers.
The two goals did not go unanswered. The Lightning proved that they can be dangerous when Martin St. Louis redirected a shot from Eric Brewer from the right point that cut the Ranger lead to 1.
The Blueshirts kept up the intensity in the second period. The Rangers pocketed a third goal on a power play opportunity at 16:08 in the second period. Tampa had a chance to clear the puck, but the puck hit the linesman at center ice. Brad Richards took advantage of this to head back into the offensive zone. Richards gave it to Nash who took a shot that was deflected. The Blueshirts did not let up, in the midst of the scrum in front of the net, Marc Staal is able to sneak the puck around Garon to make it 3-1 Rangers.
Finally, the Rangers capped off the night with a final goal in the third period that started with a defensive play from McDonagh and a pass up to Richards. Richards moves out wide to the left as he gained the zone giving his teammate, Nash, the time and space to work his magic. Nash made a quick deke around Mathieu Garon to add the perfect cherry on top to a much needed two points for the Blueshirts.
Despite Nash’s resilience coming off his injury and his stellar performance, he felt there are aspects of his game to improve upon.
“I felt OK. My timing was a bit off,” Nash said. “My wind wasn’t as good as I wanted to be. The main thing was we got the two points. That’s all that matters.” (NHL.com)
The Blueshirts proved the value of having a healthy roster. With the welcoming back of some of the Rangers key weapons and the solid effort throughout the entire game, but most importantly with the hard fought effort in the first period, the Blueshirts looked like a Stanley Cup-contending team. This is not to say get high hopes just yet, but there is plenty of games left to give this Ranger team just enough time to crawl their way back to the top.
The ability of the Rangers to get on the board first is key to many of the games they have won this season. The Blueshirts have registered a point in six of seven games when scoring the first goal this season (5-1-1), and are 3-7-1 when allowing the game’s first goal. The Rangers have posted a 5-0-1 record when leading after the first period, and are 5-0-0 when leading after the second period.
The two points moved the Rangers within one point of the eighth place Philadelphia Flyers. Last night’s game was the third meeting the Rangers faced against the Lightning, and Blueshirts swept the series for a 3-0 record against the Southeast Division opponent.
Following last night’s contest, the Rangers will continue their four-game homestand against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday, March 3rd, at Madison Square Garden (7:30 P.M. ET).