Friday, April 26, 2013

Captain Cally's OT Heroics Leads Rangers To Playoffs

The Rangers' race to the Stanley Cup playoffs finally culminated in a thrilling 4-3 overtime win last night against the Carolina Hurricanes, thanks to the overtime heroics of, who else, but captain Ryan Callahan. After watching Carolina dominate most of the play in the Rangers' zone in overtime, Captain Cally roofed a wrist shot just under the cross bar streaking down the left wing to beat Dan Ellis. The Captain delivered a clutch performance when his team needed him the most, and his overtime celebration was absolutely priceless.

With the Rangers winning last night and the Islanders losing, the Rangers moved into seventh place in the conference. Depending on what happens the rest of the way with other teams, the Rangers could finish the regular season as high as sixth in the standings or as low as eighth. Their first round opponent will either be the Penguins, Bruins, Capitals or Canadiens, and the Rangers will obviously be opening the playoffs on the road no matter who they play. The Winnipeg Jets have officially been eliminated from the playoffs, and as it turns out they would have been eliminated even if the Rangers lost because the Jets wound up losing to the Canadiens later on in the night.

The game, like the Rangers' entire season, was far from easy and felt like it would be an incredibly frustrating loss until Brad Richards' power play goal that bounced off the boards and went in the net after Hurricanes goalie Dan Ellis accidentally kicked it into his own net. I have to admit, after seeing the way the Rangers lost to the Panthers just two days earlier, this game had an eerily similar feeling and I was convinced that the Rangers were going to find themselves in a position where they had to beat the Devils on Saturday to be able to sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed (the Jets' loss to the Canadiens wasn't final at the time the Rangers won). Thankfully, it didn't come to that. That doesn't change the fact, however, that for a majority of this game it seemed like this was going to be a frustrating loss where the Rangers outperformed their opponent in nearly every category in the boxscore, but still couldn't win. The team got off to a great start with two goals in the first period, but their play noticeably slipped in the second period and they let the Hurricanes back into the game with two goals in the second period and another quick one to start the third. I also thought the Rangers were out-chanced and outplayed for pretty much the entire overtime period until Ryan Callahan's goal.

But what does that matter? Nothing because the bottom line is the Rangers got the win and they're going to the playoffs. When they needed a big play and a big goal, their team leaders Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan stepped up and delivered in a big way.

Some notes and observations from the game:

- D-Step continued his torrid pace in April (seven goals, 10 assists for 17 points in 13 games) with a goal and an assist and overtook Rick Nash for the team lead in points (42 points in 47 games). To say that Derek Stepan has blossomed this season would be an understatement. The kid has become one of the most dynamic players on the Rangers and has left no debate that he is the team's No. 1 center. Something that I didn't realize when looking at Stepan's stats today is that he has a plus-minus rating of 23, which is sixth best in the entire league. That's a pretty telling stat when you consider that Stepan has been a top-six player all year long while getting top minutes on the team's power play and penalty killing units.

- Derick Brassard potted a goal last night and now has 11 points in 12 games with the Rangers since coming over in the Marian Gaborik trade. I wasn't originally sure of what to expect from the kid when the Rangers first got him, but he's been an awesome addition and I keep forgetting that he's only 25 years old, too.

- Brad Richards extended his point-streak to five games and has put up five goals and four assists for nine points in that span. Overall, in April he has posted 16 points in 13 games and has raised his points total on the season to a respectable 32 in 45 games. Richie's game has absolutely elevated since the trade deadline and the team made some major shakeups that included dealing Marian Gaborik to Columbus. Is it a coincidence? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. All I know is Richards has returned to form and looked like the player he was one year ago. I never wrote him off as being done the way others have at times this year, so it's nice to see my faith in him is finally paying off.

- Ryan Callahan extended his point-streak to six games with a goal and an assist last night, registering four goals and five assists during that span. Captain Cally led all forwards in the game with 26:17 TOI and led all skaters with 6 shots on goal.

- Taylor Pyatt extended his point-streak to five games (!!) with an assist last night and now has two goals and three assists for five points during that span. Pyatt has stepped up in a big way playing on the third line since Brian Boyle's knee injury, and if the Rangers can continue to get some secondary scoring out of him that would be just grand going into the playoffs.

- Matt Gilroy appeared in his first game since March 12th, and dressed as an emergency fourth forward because Arron Asham missed the game to be with his wife, who was going into labor. Gilroy took two awful tripping penalties in the game - the second of which led to a Hurricanes power play goal - and I don't think he saw the ice at all after his second penalty. He registered just 3:15 TOI, which was a game-low for anybody on either team. It's really a tough spot for Gilroy to be in, so I kind of feel for him a little bit. He was playing his first game in over a month and was it wasn't even at his natural position.

- Ryane Clowe left last night's game in the second period after taking an elbow to his head while battling for the puck along the boards on a Rangers power play and did not return to the game. He looked noticeably dazed after it happened and needed to be helped off the ice to the locker room during the next TV timeout following the hit. Clowe did not participate in practice today and the Rangers recalled forward Kris Newbury from the Connecticut Whale (AHL), which I don't take as a good sign at all. I hate to speculate, but at this point all signs point to it being a concussion, which would be a big blow to the team. Clowe isn't the flashiest player, but he's emerged as a locker room leader and brings an element of toughness and character that the Rangers previously lacked all year long until they acquired him. Either way, I don't expect John Tortorella to give any updates on his condition moving forward since the Rangers are even more tight-lipped than usual when it comes to their players' health during the playoffs.

- Despite Ryane Clowe exiting the game in the second period and not returning, Chris Kreider registered just 7:05 TOI with no power play time despite being moved up to the third line in the third period. I really don't understand what the point is of having Kreider in the lineup getting under 10 minutes a game, but I've said all I can about it at this point. All we can hope is that he takes this season as a learning experience and gives John Tortorella a reason to trust him with a bigger role next season.

- Speaking of John Tortorella, with the Rangers clinching a playoff birth I have to believe that eliminated any possibility of Torts getting fired after the season. I never thought there was much of a chance that Glen Sather would fire him anyway, but still. I'd say it's almost a 100-percent certainty Tortorella will return next season, and I'd be absolutely stunned if he doesn't considering how loyal Slats is to his coaches. Mike Sullivan, on the other hand, is another case that I hope the Rangers will review following the season.

- Rick Nash was pretty much a surprising non-factor last night, registering only two shots on goal and finishing with a minus-1 rating, and is in a small slump. In his last three games Nash has failed to record a point, registering a minus-2 rating with eight shots on goal. All I can say is get it all out of your system now, Nasher, so you can be at your best come Game 1 of the playoffs.

- The Rangers out-shot the Hurricanes 38-21. The Rangers out-shot them in the second and third periods by a combined total of 28-6.

- Despite the Rangers clinching the playoffs last night, Henrik Lundqvist said following the game that he would like to play in Saturday's regular season finale against the Devils. The game isn't completely meaningless since the Rangers could still move up in the standings, so I think there's a real shot that Lundqvist will start tomorrow at the Garden. Might as well give The King the start if he really wants it when you consider the fact that the Rangers won't be in action after tomorrow until Tuesday or Wednesday. He'll get a nice break either way.

That's it for today. The Rangers will be back at it tomorrow night against the Devils from the Garden. We should learn much more about the playoff seeding and all that by tomorrow night.


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