I said in my pregame notes that the New York Rangers would have to fight for what they wanted to accomplish tonight against the Nashville Predators. Well, they sure fought in this game to come back and defeat the Preds, 2-1, in their first shootout of the season. This contest had a little bit of everything in it, and even though it took quite some time for the Blueshirts to come alive, it was entertaining to watch. The Rangers may have not played their best hockey the past two nights, but they will take the back-to-back wins anyway.
The first period started off extremely slow, which was sort of expected since both teams played last night and needed to get a feel for each other being that they only faceoff once or twice a year. Nashville got on the board first when Dan Girardi could not control a bouncing puck in the slot and turned it over to Colin Wilson, who ripped a shot over Henrik Lundqvist. Shortly after, Sean Avery and Jordan Tootoo mixed it up in the faceoff circle and both were sent off for roughing. But once their penalties expired, they met up and agreed to drop the gloves. Tootoo demolished Avery in the fight (what in the world was that little celebratory dance he did?), but I felt that it sparked the Rangers a bit, since they clearly did not have their legs early in the game.
That was not the end of the fisticuffs. Brandon Prust would later have a go with Shane O'Brien behind Pekka Rinne's net in what was a scrap that was more evenly fought than the one between Avery and Tootoo. After the buzzer sounded, Brandon Dubinsky put Colin Wilson on his behind, which started a brief scrum before the teams departed to their respective locker rooms.
Missed opportunities were the story of the second stanza for the Rangers. They outshot their opponent, 7-5, in the period but could not get any of those seven shots past Rinne. This included a wide open net for Erik Christensen, which he managed to miss and shoot right into the goaltender despite having all the time in the world. Alexander Frolov shot wide on a one-timer set up by Derek Stepan that definitely would have been a goal if it was on net. And Michael Del Zotto also had a great opportunity in the slot, but fired into the shin pad of a defender instead of on net. It was getting really frustrating for the players and fans alike.
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Thanks to the Good Lord for allowing Ryan Callahan to finally break the ice with just over six minutes remaining in the third, scoring to tie the game at one. I think head coach John Tortorella would have pulled the bench out of the ground and flipped it over if the Rangers did not somehow find a way to tie that game with all of the chances they had. But once again, Callahan and Dubinsky (picked up an assist on the goal) came to the rescue.
To over time we went, where there would not be a single stoppage of play. Each team only had one shot on goal in the extra period, but the Blueshirts seemed to control the puck for a majority of the five minutes. I thought the defense on both ends was rock solid, which was probably why this one had to ultimately be decided in a shootout.
Eric Christensen, the first shooter, scored for New York with a sweet series of dekes to beat Rinne. Henrik Lundqvist then stepped in and stopped all three shooters he faced, clinching the 2-1 win for the Rangers. A feeling of relief fell upon the entire bench when Hank made that last save, because they knew this was a game they needed to win.
Henrik Lundvist was once again a major part of tonight's win. Coming off a shutout against the Panthers on Friday, we expected him to continue his dominance against the Preds. That he did, making a total of 30 saves (10 less than last night) and standing strong in the shootout. He has bounced back nicely after the rough patch of games that he ran into over the past few weeks, which is definitely a good sign for the Blueshirts.
We have seen it over and over again this season, and we saw it yet again on this night. With Marian Gaborik out of the lineup, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky took it upon themselves to step up and carry the offense on their shoulders. Callahan had the tying tally and was incredible on the penalty-kill, while Dubinsky's not-stop effort was probably why the Rangers were even able to win this game. You cannot praise these two enough, because they are giving the impression that nothing can go wrong for them right now.
Derek Stepan's six game point streak may have been snapped, but he was certainly noticeable against the Predators anyway. I wasn't kidding when I bragged about his ability to distribute the puck on the rush and while set up in the offensive zone. The kid has bird vision. He will become a top playmaker in the league over time, just watch.
A lot of people hate on Erik Christensen for multiple reasons - including myself - but his arsenal of shootout moves is outstanding. I have never ever seen him do the same move twice. Ever. No matter who is in net, it is almost impossible to outwait all of those moves leading up to the actual shot. You really cannot blame Rinne on the winner, because he had no chance to save it.
The defense in front of Henrik Lundqvist was much better tonight than in recent games. For the most part, they kept the Predators to the outside, which was not an easy task considering how often they have defensemen join in on the rush.
The Rangers now enter a weirdly scheduled week in which they will host the red hot Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday, have two days off, and then enter a home-and-home with the rival Islanders on Thursday and Friday. All in all, that's a total of six points that they can steal from teams within their division. If they can capture at least four of them I will be satisfied.