The New York Rangers closed out their 2013 regular season on a good note with a very convincing 4-0 win over the New Jersey Devils. Henrik Lundqvist recorded just his second shutout of the season as he turned away all 20 shots he faced this afternoon.
Derek Stepan got things started just two minutes into the game, as he converted on a brilliant centering feed from Ryan Callahan. Callahan started this play off by retrieving the puck behind the net, and spinning a no-look pass from the corner out to Stepan. Stepan wasted no time and ripped a snap shot that beat Johan Hedberg over the shoulder and it was 1-0 Rangers. It's worth pointing out that this goal doesn't happen unless John Moore is extremely aggressive at the blue line. He made a play to keep the puck in, and wound up getting the puck to Callahan right before the goal. Moore continues to impress every game, and this game was no exception.
A late tripping penalty by Taylor Pyatt who eventually lead to the Rangers second goal, as Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan connected for a shorthanded goal. Derek Stepan made a great play to intercept Marek Zidlicky's cross ice pass, and dished it off to Callahan cutting down the middle. Callahan picked up the puck, walked in alone of Hedberg, and slipped it through the five hole to make it 2-0 Rangers. It was the perfect sequence to end the period, and even better to be in command of a 2-0 heading into the second period.
Rick Nash would convert for the Rangers late in the second period as Brad Richards made a great pass to set him up in the high slot. Richards wound up losing the initial faceoff, but forced a turn over by Adam Larsson in the corner just prior to the goal. Richards remained calm with the puck, and made a beautiful saucer pass out to Nash who was at the high slot waiting, and he ripped it home to make it 3-0.
Brad Richards has also picked up his play pretty significantly over these last few weeks, and he's starting to return to the Brad Richards of last season at the right time as well. Just five minutes into the third period, Nash struck again for his second goal of the game off of a pretty impressive passing play between Richards, Mats Zuccarello, and himself. Zuccarello plays a big part in this goal as he dishes off the puck to Brad Richards, and than immediately takes off towards the high slot. Because of that, Zuccarello is able to walk in on contested as Richards hit him back door.
I'm sure he surprised many people when he dished the puck off to Nash who was ready to unleash a bomb from the slot. If you watch Johan Hedberg on the play, Zuccarello completely throws him off guard with that last pass to Nash. Just an all around great effort from Zuccarello, as he has been absolutely phenomenal since joining the Rangers a few weeks ago.
Henrik Lundqvist stood tall for the remaining 15 minutes, and was able to preserve not only the win, but his 51st career shutout, which puts him atop of the list for the franchise leader. You really couldn't have asked for a better finish heading into the playoffs, and with the Rangers playing some good hockey the last month it could bode well for them.
The playoffs are projected to start either Tuesday or Wednesday depending on who the Rangers wind up playing in the first round. As it stands right now, the Rangers are sitting in the sixth spot which would have them matching up against the Washington Capitals. However, the Ottawa Senators still have two games remaining (one tonight), and still have the opportunity to pass the Rangers.