The New York Rangers had a huge task ahead of them tonight by visiting the defending Stanley Cup Champions tonight, and to make matters worse, the game was taking place at the United Center. Before tonight, the Blackhawks had only lost two games in regulation at home throughout this entire season. The Rangers were able to overcome all of that adversity tonight, and held on to defeat the Blackhawks 3-2 in regulation time. With the win, the Rangers moved two games about .500 for the first time this season, and are in sole possession of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Surprisingly enough, the Rangers actually started out this game with an immense amount of confidence and controlled a majority of the play early on. Just five minutes into the game, Brad Richards broke through with the games first goal and vaulted the Rangers to a very early 1-0 lead. Ryan Callahan make an excellent play in the neutral zone to force a turnover, and quickly dished the puck off to Richards with a bank pass off of the boards. Richards wasted almost no time carrying the puck up, and quickly snapped a shot through Corey Crawford, who's legs were wide open as the shot came through.
Then a little over four minutes later, Mats Zuccarello doubled the Rangers lead on a quick wraparound goal with the man advantage, to give the Rangers a two goal lead. Daniel Carcillo wound up getting under the skin of Brandon Bollig who eventually popped him with a punch, and Carcillo drew his first penalty in Rangers blue. After some failed opportunities to enter the zone, Zuccarello took it upon himself to lug it into the zone, and took full advantage of the room the Blackhawks gave him behind the net.
The horn sounded to end the first period, and the Rangers had played probably one of their best road periods in one of the league's toughest buildings. However, the Rangers needed to keep that intensity up if they wanted to hold onto the lead, and they eventually let that slip away during the middle frame.
As quickly as the Rangers scored in the opening period, the Blackhawks answered right back with two goals of their own in a matter of two minutes. Jonathan Toews was the recipient of the first goal as he chipped home a badly placed rebound by Henrik Lundqvist, and ripped it right back over the shoulder to cut the lead in half. Shortly after it was Brandon Bollig, an unexpected goal scorer, who fired a shot shortside on Lundqvist to bring things back to a 2-2 tie.
You could probably pin that second goal mostly on Henrik Lundqvist as he was beaten cleanly on a shot that should have been an easy routine save. However, Lundqvist made up for that as the game went on, and he played absolutely lights out for the remaining 32 minutes. With the Rangers heading into the third period tied at two, all the Rangers had to do was win the period and they would be walking away with two points.
Had this game taken place earlier in the season, the Rangers would have likely packed things up, and held their heads after giving up a two goal lead. The biggest difference between then and now is that they actually have an immense amount of push back after facing some adversity, and make the best of an ugly situation. That was evident in the third period when they completely locked down the Blackhawks, and held them scoreless for the remaining 20 minutes.
That, and the spectacular play by Lundqvist, eventually set up Carl Hagelin to score the game winning goal with just over five minutes to play in regulation. Marc Staal's initial point shot wound up hancuffing Crawford, and he bobbled the puck which left a wide open net for Hagelin. After several swats at the puck, Hagelin was eventually able to lift it over the sprawled out Crawford, and restored a one goal lead for the Rangers.
From that point on, you had to figure the Blackhawks were going to come out firing for their lives, and they did just that in the closing five minutes. Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Ryan McDonagh were outstanding during those minutes, and made some big plays down below the goal line to stifle the Hawks red-hot offense.
Ryan Callahan eventually had a golden opportunity to clear the zone with about 10 seconds remaining, and relieved the pressure to give the Rangers two huge points. This game was huge in terms of confidence, as the Rangers will now head home where they will have seven of their next eight games at Madison Square Garden. Their last home stand wasn't so hot, and only produced two wins in nine games on home ice. If the Rangers plan on separating themselves from the pack, these next eight games at home are going to be crucial.
They started it out on the right foot tonight with a big win, let's hope they can carry it over to Friday night against the Dallas Stars.