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Rangers Vs. Blue Jackets: Stepan On Up

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Notes from the Rangers win over the Blue Jackets.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

- That's another one of those games that, despite a win, should make you a little nervous about this team's chances even though they've gone all in. Columbus out-shot and out-chanced the Rangers (New York did have an edge in high-danger chances) and if it weren't for Antti Raanta this would have been a much, much different outcome.

- Not to say the Rangers played particularly poorly, but this is the stage in the year when you want to see the team start turning into what you hope will be a group ready for a deep playoff run. Being beaten in the possession game from a non-playoff team isn't a good thing to see -- especially when your goalie has to bail you out. Spare me the "this group knows how to win" narrative that people love to throw around this time of year. Every playoff team knows how to win.

- Although I will say, Eric Staal is a big enough piece that you give this group a few games to gel because he does disrupt what's been running. You could see the wheels starting to turn a little -- and I do love the idea of him playing with Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg -- but the chemistry isn't there yet. That will take some time (Staal had one practice with the team to that point) but I think the Rangers are going to be very happy with their top nine (and possibly their forward corps as a whole -- more on that in the next article coming today) come the playoffs.

- Something else: If Staal remains on the third line (assuming Rick Nash comes back healthy) it's a matchup nightmare for other teams. Who do you focus on? All three lines could be potentially lethal as we get to the spring.

- Big props to Raanta who, quite literally, saved the night with a brilliant last-second left pad save to keep the Rangers ahead 2-1. It was a reactionary save that came after he already had made a left to right stop not more than a second before. Eventually Columbus did score but it was long after the green light went off. Raanta bailed the Rangers out multiple other times throughout the game, and if not for a horrific offensive zone turnover might have actually gotten a shutout.

- Here's my biggest problem with the Dan Girardi turnover: Things like that happen to everyone (more to him than others, but I digress). Want to know what happened to Girardi after the goal? Nothing. He never missed a shift. But had that play happened from say Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, Dylan McIlrath or even J.T. Miller they'd probably not see the ice again the rest of the night. The preemptive punishment of some (McIlrath played four minutes all night; although it's worth noting he looked awful as a forward) while others get as much room for mistakes as they want is infuriating. And I say this noting that Girardi didn't play the worst game, had a month of February where he got his possession numbers up and slowly developed from "total disaster" to "so long as he doesn't do anything stupid we might be able to mitigate his mistakes." So ... improvements? But, man, if the Rangers are leaning on him to do the heavy lifting they're going to be smoking in the dynamite shed as some say.

- Speaking of: Keith Yandle saw less even strength ice time than Girardi again. Marc Staal, however, saw just 16 minutes (he did not have a good night) so, progress? Maybe?

- Derek Stepan's goal was awesome. Not only did he use a burst of speed to get into space; he also threw away a hook to get free, juked Joonas Korpisalo out of his jock and then calmly potted the puck from a bad angle. That's such a harder goal than you think it is, and to score it at that moment in a big game is nice to see.

- Stepan's celebration was also awesome. Stick in the air from the net to the blue line. America.

- As sad as I was to lose Aleksi Saarela, I am pleased the Rangers held onto Lindberg. I really think he has the tools to be the next Carl Hagelin, and his defensive awareness is often overlooked. He had a particularly strong game for the Rangers as he continues to grow.

- Something that might also get overlooked right now is how much Alain Vigneault can flatten his ice time. With Staal on the third line (assuming git stays that way) he can play his top nine without running anyone into the ground. Last night Tanner Glass saw the least amount of ice time for forwards with 10:55 while Mats Zuccarello saw the most with just over 21 minutes. Outside of Zuccarello, just two other forwards (Stepan and Brassard) saw 18 minutes, everyone else was between 12-16. Not a bad way to keep everyone fresh.

- Thoughts?