A 5-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres just a day ago put the Rangers season on the brink and certainly had fans in fear. However, the team proved to us tonight that they are far from dead just yet and still have an opportunity to get into the postseason dance in the East. This 5-1 victory over the Leafs puts them one point out of the playoffs with a home-and-home against the Flyers just around the corner. Their season, basically, comes down to those two games.
The Rangers wasted no time in this game, opening the scoring just 21 seconds in when Brandon Dubinsky fed Erik Christensen for a tuck-in right at the goal mouth. Following that, defenseman Michal Rozsival sent Olli Jokinen on a breakaway with a beautiful pass from his own zone. Jokinen was stopped by Gustavsson on a rather weak attempt, but Vinny Prospal was there to bury the rebound for his 20th of the season and to give the Blueshirts a 2-0 lead. Exactly thirty seconds later, Erik Christensen was sent on a mini-breakaway by Marian Gaborik and snuck a backhander through the legs of Gustavsson to net his second of the game. That assist earned Gaborik a career-high 84 points on the season.
Also in the first, former Ranger Colton Orr jumped Jody Shelley street style early on to ignite a fight. This goes back to earlier in the year when Shelley leveled Orr with a punch when the two went at it in San Jose. Orr, seeking retribution, was not taking no as an answer from Shelley, and decided to give Shelley no choice. I found Orr's approach a bit odd, but nonetheless, it provided for an interesting scrap between the two heavyweights.
New York went into more of a defensive mode in the second period, and that caused the contest to turn into quite a chippy one. The Rangers killed off three penalties in the stanza, including one that came when Brandon Dubinsky was handed an instigator for defending Marian Gaborik when he challenged Jeff Finger. The hit on Gaborik by Finger was a message sending one, and Dubinsky had a reply to that message. I give him credit for what he did, and it is one of the very few penalties that I consider "good penalties".
Continue reading after the jump.
The third period had more action with three goals being exchanged between the two clubs. Dion Phaneuf scored his first goal as Leaf to put his boys on the board for the first and last time in the game. Olli Jokinen responded, though, when his slapshot, despite Gustavsson getting a huge chunk of it, made its way into the back of the net. That was Jokinen's fourth goal as a Ranger in one of his better games while playing on Broadway. To be honest, I have not been too impressed with what I have seen from Jokinen since acquiring him, but he played well in this one.
Finally, Aaron Voros, or as he calls himself, "the people's champ" finished a tremendous pass by Brandon Prust by whipping a quick wrister by Gustavsson. Now I have seen many goal celebrations in my day, including Teemu Selanne's "shooting of the glove" and Theo Fleury's ride to center ice on his stick, but never have I saw a player take his stick and swing for the fences towards the glass. Guess he has been enjoying the recent opening to the MLB season.
Henrik Lundqvist had a great bounce back performance after being pulled from last night's game just 5:17 into the second period at HSBC Arena. Henrik made 26 saves and looked calm in net, which is not easy to do at this time of the year, let alone having to face the fact that you were pulled just 24 hours ago. Lundqvist, as chosen by members of the NHL Media, was tonight's third star of the game.
Erik Christensen and Brandon Prust have been two unsung heroes on this hockey club since being acquired by the Blueshirts. Both were a force tonight and both played a big part in the 5-1 victory. This just goes to show you the heart of some of these players, and their desire to make the playoffs with them stepping up their play greatly at a crucial time of the year. I cannot say enough about their two-way effort tonight, because it was simply incredible. Erik Christensen, however, did leave the game late in the third period with an apparent arm injury.
So this win puts the Rangers just one point out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They sit in ninth trailing the eighth place Bruins by one point and the seventh place Flyers by two. The Flyers do not play again until the home-and-home with the Blueshirts this weekend, so two wins in that series will automatically earn New York a playoff berth. The B's will be at it tomorrow, but that game should not matter as much. The Rangers' main goal right now is to collect four points this weekend against Philadelphia.
Also, make sure to listen in to Jim and Eddie on Blueshirt Banter Radio tomorrow (Thursday) night at 8 pm, when they will discuss this game and the upcoming battle with the Flyers.