Tonight's 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils was not pretty, and certainly not what we expected against the worst team in hockey right now, but even still, it was enough for two points in the standings. Like most games against the Devils, the Rangers were forced to grind out a win tonight and that is exactly what they did. With this, they have now won two straight, are the best road team in the NHL, and are only one point out of fifth place.
The Rangers came out in the first period with absolutely no energy at all. They were being outplayed in every possible way and just looked dead out there. The Devils picked up on this and wisely kept the puck in the Blueshirts' end, pressuring them into making mistakes. At 6:31 of the first, Travis Zajac snuck a shot past Henrik Lundqvist during a scrum in the crease. Brian Boyle answered right back for New York when he took a pass from Ruslan Fedotenko and fired a tricky shot on net and behind Brodeur for his 14th of the season. Needless to say, the Rangers were extremely lucky to get out of this period in a tie.
John Tortorella straightened his squad out during the intermission as the Rangers came out more alert in the second period. They killed off a penalty to start and then began to get chances of their own by throwing shots on net. There was one thing stopping them at that point and that was Marty Brodeur. Brodeur made some key stops on Avery, Prust, Gaborik and basically led the Devils' penalty kill when the Blueshirts had the man advantage.
One shot did get by him, however, that being Michal Rozsival's one-timer from Brandon Dubinsky that went off Colin White and in. So the Rangers took a 2-1 lead into the locker room after the second period. Henrik Lundqvist was a big story at that point also, because he already had 35 saves on the night.
The third period was all about defense for the Rangers. They were forced to kill off three penalties, which they did, and gave the Devils no time or space to make plays. Henrik Lundqvist made another nine saves in the period, reaching a season-high 43 in the game. Finally, Brandon Dubinsky's empty-netter clinched the win for the Blueshirts with six seconds remaining in regulation.
I told you in my pregame that the Devils always bring out the best in Henrik Lundqvist. Making 43 saves, I would say yes, that was true tonight. He was really good stopping the shots through traffic tonight, which he had to do often since New Jersey likes to collapse their forwards to the net on the powerplay. Luckily, King Henrik will have a couple days off here before he will most likely have to face the bolts on Saturday.
Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle deserve a lot of credit for their effort on the penalty-kill in this game. This tandem reminds me a lot of the Sjostrom-Betts duo that flourished when down a man a few years ago. And in addition to defending down in their own zone, they transition turnovers so quickly and turn them into shorthanded scoring chances. Maybe why the Rangers lead the league in shorthanded goals?
Michal Rozsival had an exceptional all around game tonight. He had the game-winning goal in the second, but was also very effective in front of Henrik Lundqvist. As much as fans do not want to admit it, he has been much better this season compared to years past. He hasn't contributed as much as Staal and Girardi have, obviously, but he's done well despite all of the criticism he takes.
I also liked Brandon Dubinsky's game tonight. He was battling very hard in front of the net and making room for himself on top of the crease. Also, that pass to Rozy on his goal was a thing of beauty.
Like I said, this win wasn't perfect by any means. The Rangers were dead in the first period and only slowly awakened in the second period, but it was enough to grab the two points and that is all that maters at the end of the day. The Rangers will be off until New Year's when they visit the Lightning in Tampa, but likely without Erik Christensen since he left tonight's game with a leg injury.