Thursday, March 22, 2012
Callahan Leads Rangers Over Red Wings 3-2 In OT
It was certainly a happy birthday for Captain Cally. Celebrating his 27th birthday, Ryan Callahan scored the game-winning goal (coincidentally, his 27th of the season) 2:42 into overtime to help lead the Rangers to a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Red Wings. The win moved the Rangers three points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Atlantic Division and first place in the Eastern Conference.
If you ever wanted one game to use an example to show just what kind of a player Ryan Callahan is, this game is probably one of the best. I thought this was easily Cally's best game of the year and one of the best of his entire career. He finished with a game-high 8 shots on goal in 23:02 of ice time with the game-winning goal and was a plus-1 rating. Not exactly numbers on a boxscore that would jump out at you upon first glance, but as Rangers fans have come to learn, Callahan is one of those guys that does so many little things beyond what shows up in the stats sheets. The boxscore from tonight's game won't tell you about the amazing hustle Callahan showed in the third period to skate all the way across the ice and slide to block a slap shot from the point in a tie game. It also won't tell you the unreal job of backskating Cally did in the third period to dive and breakup a Pavel Datsyuk breakaway when the Rangers had a shot blocked on the powerplay and the Red Wings broke out the other way, or the awareness he showed all night long to break up passes, chip pucks in deep and work along the boards. In other words, it was just another day at the office for Ryan Callahan. Tonight was a game in which the Rangers needed their leaders to step up big, and they followed the lead of their captain. All night long it just seemed like it was a matter of when, not if, Callahan would be involved in the game-winning goal. He's that type of player that just comes up big, and he showed it once again tonight.
Simply put, tonight was just a good ole fashioned hockey game by two fundamentally sound hockey clubs.
For a while, it seemed like tonight was going to be one of those games where the Rangers made Ty Conklin look a hell of a lot better than he really is. For the most part, they still did even though they won. Conklin faced 34 shots and stopped 32 of them, including a few shots that were either just wide or off the post. But the Rangers kept at it and stayed within themselves without breaking character and diverting from who they are and it paid off in the end.
Brandon Dubinsky played a very strong game coming off of what I thought was his best game of the season against the Devils on Tuesday. Like Callahan, the stats sheet wasn't pretty - Dubi registered no shots and only finished with one assist - but he was making things happen all night long and had a shot that rang off the post. He's been much more of a force offensively the past two games and we can only hope he can keep it up and play like the Brandon Dubinsky of last season versus the Brandon Dubinsky that we've seen for a majority of this season. It would certainly be a nice boost for the Rangers to get him going heading into the playoffs to add a secondary scoring threat.
Henrik Lundqvist, who was was previously winless in four starts against the Red Wings in his career, had his best game in a long time. The lone goal he surrendered was brutal, but after that I thought he was much better and just looked steadier in net than he has recently. He stopped 26 of 27 shots, and had a couple of fantastic saves that would've obviously changed the outcome of the entire game had he not come up big, most notably his save on a Valtteri Filppula breakaway in the first period on a giveaway by Michael Del Zotto. I thought tonight was a step in the right direction for King Henrik to get back to the form he needs to be in down the stretch and in the postseason.
Brad Richards' first period goal on the power play was a thing of beauty. He rushed coast to coast and beat Ty Conklin on a perfect shot after weaving his way through the Red Wings' penalty killing unit that was capped off by a nice little move that made the usually steady Niklas Kronwall look silly. You can argue it was a bad goal and that the Red Wings did a bad job of checking, but it was still a great rush up the ice by Richards. He's looked like a totally different player the last month and has come up big all year long for the Rangers. What looked like a disappointing first season on Broadway for Richie a few months ago has suddenly taken a complete 180 and he's shown fans the type of player the Rangers knew they were getting when they signed him last offseason. The Rangers will need Richards' clutch abilities and veteran presence down the stretch here, and it's clear right now that he's more than up to the challenge of helping carry this team offensively.
Getting back to the giveaway in the first period by Michael Del Zotto that led to a breakaway - I thought that was mainly a result of the ice at the Garden tonight more than anything else. The puck was taking some ridiculous hops and bouncing all over the place all night long, and I was hoping that the game wouldn't be decided on some flukey bounce considering how well both teams were playing. Thankfully, it wasn't. Aside from that bad giveaway by Del Zotto, I thought the Rangers were pretty much defensively sound all night long (Marc Staal wore the Broadway Hat for what I thought was his best all-around game of the season). They blocked 18 shots overall and many of the shots the Red Wings had were shots that Lundqvist was able to see clearly and get a good read on. It was another solid game by the Rangers in all three zones in which they stuck with their system and played with the same identity of a hard-working team that they've established all season long.
You can read the boxscore to the game here.
The Rangers are off tomorrow and then back at it Friday night at 7 p.m. against the Sabres. It'll mark the last home game of their current seven-game homestand before they head up north for three away games against the Maple Leafs, Wild and Jets.