The Rangers' combustible former head coach John Tortorella returned to the Garden just in time to see the debut of the Rangers' newest star forward. Eric Staal took to the ice for the first time as a Ranger since the Blueshirts acquired him on the 28th. Although all eyes were on the eldest Staal brother for his debut as a Blueshirt at the Garden, it was Antti Raanta who stole the spotlight with clutch saves throughout a sleepy game.
The first period saw Columbus outshoot the Rangers 13 to 8, but the visiting team was unable to solve Raanta who looked confident and big in the Rangers' net. At the halfway mark of the first Raanta flashed the glove to spoil a scoring chance on the rush that came from the stick of Cam Atkinson. It was the Rangers who got on the board first when Mats Zuccarello potted his 21st goal of the season when he banked the puck off of the back of the goaltender with 2:19 left in the first period from behind the goal line. Dan Boyle picked up the only assist on Zuccarello's cheeky goal.
After being outshot in the first, the Garden was murmuring their hopes for the Rangers to turn it on in the second period against their former head coach's team. But Eric Staal and the Rangers put just five shots on net to Columbus' eight in the second. The newest Ranger was taking the body on the forecheck and rattling the boards until he came up a little sore after an awkward hit around the halfway point of the second. The former Hurricanes captain looked uncomfortable, but didn't appear to miss a shift and got back out on the ice.
Speaking of hits, Dylan McIlrath was more or less just roaming around as a fourth line winger and hitting everything wearing a white jersey. At the 10:35 mark of the second period Jared Boll had had enough and the two dropped the gloves at center ice after a faceoff in what was clearly an orchestrated scrap.
Just before the final minute of the second period Viktor Stalberg tipped a great scoring chance wide and to the left off of a set-up pass from Derek Stepan. Stalberg didn't turn a lot of heads playing in the top six with Stepan and Kreider, but had a fine game otherwise.
A 1-0 lead over the worst team in the division was not a comforting state of affairs for the Rangers through the first forty minutes of the game and after Brandon Dubinsky was robbed on an early rush in the third period by Raanta things started to look and feel a little bit spooky. They turned from spooky to infuriating when Dan Girardi more or less sprung Atkinson for a breakaway and then wasn't fast enough to catch him after Raanta stopped the first shot. Girardi's gaffe naturally provoked outrage on twitter and at the Garden for the alternate captain who can't seem to find his game and has had a bad habit of making costly turnovers and bad decisions both with and without the puck.
When Marc Staal took the first Rangers' penalty of the game at the 15:19 mark of the third period, there were as many profanities in the Garden as there are battles with Metapod in the Viridian Forest. However, despite showing signs of vulnerability during some sustained pressure at times from Columbus at even strength, the Rangers were excellent on the penalty kill. The Blue Jackets were not only not able to score on the Rangers on their first power play of the game, they also gave up a breakaway to Derek Stepan who out-waited Korpisalo and scored to electrify the Garden Faithful back to life.
Good penalty, Marc Staal. Made that shorthanded goal possible. Credit where it's due. pic.twitter.com/GjwAw32YSq— (@DigDeepBSB) March 1, 2016
Ryan McDonagh picked up the sole assist on Stepan's 14th goal of the season which proved to be the game winner. Although things once again got a little spooky when the Blue Jackets put the puck in the net after the horn sounded for the end of regulation, the Rangers' skaters still took great joy in mobbing Raanta and celebrating their back-up goaltender's big win in a game that the Rangers knew they had to get two points out of.
After all was said and done the Rangers won in regulation although they never truly had the game in hand. Raanta and Korpisalo both had brilliant games, but it was a shorthanded goal by the thin-haired magician we affectionately call "Steps" that decided the contest and brought the Rangers to 80 points on the season through 63 games of regular season hockey. The win was the Rangers' third straight and their 23rd home win of the season. It was ugly, but it was a win.
The Rangers' next game is on the road against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Thursday night at 7:00 PM.