We expected a close game. We expected Henrik Lundqvist to stand on his head. We expected a strong effort from the entire Ranger lineup if they wanted a win. Our expectations evidently were right on target for this afternoon's 1-0 shutout victory over the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden. The Blueshirts raised their level of play compared to this week's games against the Panthers and Senators, and put forth a 60-minute effort that included an incredible 28 blocked shots. They got tremendous goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and contained the Bruins well. A solid win like this was exactly what the Rangers needed after having their win streak snapped on Thursday, and now they are tied with the sixth place Montreal Canadiens in points (MTL gets nod because of tie-breaker).
Both teams came out hitting and that set the tone for what would be a very physical affair. The first and only goal scored in the game came at 6:39 of the first period when Derek Stepan netted his 20th of the season right off the face-off. Stepan won the draw, Vinny Prospal sent it back to Michael Sauer and Step would end up deflecting Sauer's point shot past Tuukka Rask from the top of the slot. With that goal Stepan became the youngest rookie to score twenty goals in his first NHL season as a Ranger since Alexei Kovalev. Kudos to coach Tortorella for putting Derek on Marian Gaborik's line, because it looked to spark new life within that trio.
Sean Avery, in his first game back from being a healthy scratch for over a week, also dropped the gloves with Gregory Campbell early in the tilt. Avery needed to do something to prove he remains in the lineup with the little ice time he knew he would receive from Torts, so squaring off and getting his club into it was probably the best way of doing so.
The Rangers went into a complete defensive lockdown in the third period, blocking 18 shots and keeping the Bruins to the outside. What did get by the tight defense was halted by Lundqvist in net. Boston came awfully close to knotting it up several times but luck was apparently on New York's side because they were able to avoid any trouble and walk away with two huge points in the standings yet again.
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Now the defense was good, yes, but most of the credit has to go to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who just so happened to be playing in his 400th career game this afternoon. Hank made a total of 26 saves, many of which came late in the third period after he had to fight off the pain from a nasty collision with Marc-Andre Bergeron in the crease. He also recorded his 11th shutout of the season - a career high - to become the first Ranger goalie to do so since 1927-28 (the year they won their first Stanely Cup). Vezina candidate? Yes, I'd say so.
Lundqvist is an amazing player, and not only because of his goaltending abilities. What he showed today was pure leadership. Between getting run over and getting back up to making all of those late saves to preserve the lead, it was just a touching thing to watch. The guy really cares and again, this team will only go as far as he can take them.
Speaking of amazing hockey players, Derek Stepan has had himself one heck of a rookie season this year. Any time a freshman can record twenty goals in his first season is something very special and something Derek should take pride in. He is one of the top rookies in the entire National Hockey League right now, and also one of the top rookies the Rangers have brought up on offense in recent years. I think the Rangers are going to start sending all of their scouts to just Wisconsin Badger games from now on, because they breed some talented puckers over there.
The Rangers now remain in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with a total of 87 points. They are tied with the sixth place Canadiens in points, but again, the Habs have the edge in the tie-breaker (non-shootout wins). The Blueshirts are not far off from clinching a playoff spot in the East. I think four to five more points before the season's end may do the trick, of course depending on what Carolina and Buffalo do as well.
And lastly, a big thanks to Jim Schmiedeberg for hosting a fantastic Blueshirt Banter Viewing Party in New York City today. It really made for a great time and I can tell you first hand that the fans in attendance really enjoyed themselves, especially since they were able to see a win. Thanks for coming everyone. Looking forward to the next one!