NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Derek Stepan #21 of the New York Rangers celebrates his goal during the game against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden on December11, 2011 in New York City. Rangers defeated the Panthers 6-1. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
That's not last year's Florida Panthers either, that's a very good hockey team who is in first place in the Southeastern Conference and is a point away from having the best record in the East. That's a team with a ton of talented players who has jumped off to a blistering 16-9-5 start and was 4-1-1 in their last six games.
And now they're another addition to an increasingly long list of great teams the Rangers have handled this season.
All the usual suspects came through for the Rangers in the win. Derek Stepan had two goals and an assist, including a brilliant deke and snipe that had Rangers fans collectively lifting their jaws off the Madison Square Garden floor once they realized what happened. Marian Gaborik and Artem Anisimov had a goal and an assist and both Brad Richards and Steve Eminger added goals of their own.
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Ryan Callahan, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle and John Mitchell and Erik Christensen added assists as well. The Rangers got a brilliant power play goal from Richards, who faked a slapshot before sniping the corner, and then got another just six minutes later from Anisimov.
Henrik Lundqvist did his usual thing, and the Rangers walked away with their 17th win of the season.
For the Rangers to come out and blow the doors off the Panthers in the second game of a back-to-back section of the schedule really speaks to the makeup of this team. The talent level is high, but the ability to win hockey games is even higher.
Remember as well that John Tortorella has this team so prepared that they've compiled this record without the help of Marc Staal. That's the Rangers best defenseman who hasn't seen a lick of ice time this year due to concussion symptoms. Imagine what things will be like when he returns. It should also be noted that Wojtek Wolski, who was slated to play on the first line, has missed all but six games this year as well.
That's the scary part.
Last night might have been the Rangers best outing of the season, and they did it without two of their top four defenseman and one of their "should-be weapons" up front. The Rangers have found ways to win games this year no matter what the circumstances and no matter who the team.
That means something. And if the Rangers record is any indication, things are only going to get better.