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.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rangers Eliminate Devils From Playoff Race Thanks To Callahan, Lundqvist

The New York Rangers officially eliminated the New Jersey Devils from the playoff race today with a 4-1 victory this afternoon at the Garden. The Rangers were led by Ryan Callahan, who had two goals, and got the scoring started just 34 seconds into the game with a nifty backhand from behind the net after Devils goaltender Marty Brodeur lost track of the puck. Brad Richards also registered two assists, extending his point streak to three games, while Taylor Pyatt and Derek Stepan tallied the other two goals in the game. Henrik Lundqvist was back at his best, stopping 26 of 27 shots on goal.

With today's win, the Rangers moved three points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets for the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers, who have now won three straight games in which they've outscored their opposition by a score of 18-6, are now tied with the Ottawa Senators in points (52) and are one point behind the Islanders in the standings, as well.

Right from the beginning you could tell the Rangers were on their game. They showed intense pressure on the forecheck all night long and sure didn't look like a team who has played three games in the last four days. I thought the Rangers made Marty Brodeur look like the same average goaltender he's looked like for the majority of the past few years. Ryan Callahan's goal to open the scoring came when Brodeur lost track of where the puck was during a battle along the boards behind his net, and the goal he gave up to Taylor Pyatt was clearly one that Brodeur or any other NHL goaltender would tell you should've been stopped. The Rangers, to their credit, never let up on their offensive pressure all game long and seemed to rattle Brodeur every time they were around his net.

The only time this game really worried me and made me think the Devils could put up a decent fight was early in the second period. The Devils came out flying and had the Rangers pinned in their own zone for much of the first half of the second period, but Henrik Lundqvist stood tall and was fantastic when called upon to make a big stop. The Devils only out-shot the Rangers 12-10 in the period, but for the most part I thought they were the better team in the period. Once Pyatt scored his goal off an alert takeaway by Brad Richards in the Devils' zone, the game felt like it was over. Like the Sabres on Friday night, the Devils really did not show much fight in this game and certainly didn't play like a team who needed to win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. They were uncharacteristically undisciplined and took eight penalties in the game, including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from Patrik Elias in the third period that essentially killed any chance the Devils had of getting back in the game, and two bench minors from head coach Peter DeBoer barking at the officials (the second of which got him ejected at 19:25 of the third period). Very odd at how quickly the team seemed to unravel.

Anyway, here are some notes from the game tonight:

- Derek Stepan continued his torrid pace this month with a goal and an assist today and now has a four-game point streak (two goals and four assists). He has been held scoreless in just one game this month (April 13 against the Islanders) and overall has posted six goals and nine assists for 15 points and a plus-11 rating in 11 games in April. The kid is quickly becoming this team's No. 1 center on the roster and has matured tremendously over the last year and a half.

- Brad Richards has a three-game point streak, tying his longest of the season, and has posted four goals and three assists for seven points in that span to go along with a plus-4 rating. In 11 games this month, Richards has tallied five goals and seven assists for 12 points. He's looked like a totally different player since the trade deadline.

- John Moore had a total of 3:15 of power play time tonight a few games after John Tortorella expressed a desire to get him more involved on the power play. I think Moore has looked more and more comfortable each game he's played and you can see him taking more and more chances on offense when he has the puck on his stick. Overall, he had 14:11 TOI today, which was his highest total since becoming a Ranger.

- Taylor Pyatt's goal was his first since February 26 against the Winnipeg Jets. I knew he hadn't scored in a long, long time, but I didn't know it was that long. Amazingly, Pyatt now has a three-game point streak since being moved up to play on Brad Richards' line after Brian Boyle's leg injury and has one goal and two assists in his last three games. Before that, the last time he had recorded a point guessed it, February 26 against the Jets.

- Arron Asham actually got 22 seconds of power play time in today's game. Maybe Torts owed him a favor? In all seriousness, though, tonight seemed like a game in which Asham was noticeable on just about every shift and getting under the Devils' skin all day long. Tonight was probably one of Asham's best games as a Ranger. He was throwing hits and mixing it up with the Devils every chance he got, which is all you can ask for from a scrappy fourth line agitator. Asham received a 10-minute misconduct at the end of the game, but I didn't see or hear what the reasoning for it was.

- Ryan Callahan recorded his team-leading sixth power play goal of the season and the captain now has a four-game point streak of his own (three goals and three assists).

- Dan Girardi led all skaters with 27:00 TOI.

That's it for today. The Rangers are off tomorrow before taking on the Panthers Tuesday in Florida. After that it's a match up with the Hurricanes in Carolina on Thursday and then the regular season finale against the Devils from the Garden on Saturday.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rangers Pound Sabres For 8 Goals In Wild Friday Night Win

The Rangers strengthened their hold on the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture with an eventful 8-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres last night, giving the Rangers four big points in two days after they beat the Panthers 6-1 on Thursday at the Garden. The Rangers, who were led by Brad Richards' first career hat trick, have now scored 14 goals in two nights and will take on the Devils tomorrow afternoon.

The Rangers, now 23-17-4 sit at 50 points for the season while the Jets have 49 after this afternoon's 5-4 shootout win against the Islanders, though the Jets (49 points) and Islanders (53 points) have both played one game more than the Rangers so far this year. The Senators have 57 points and are seventh in the conference.

Last night's game was very bizarre to say the least. The game got off to a slow start with neither team generating much of anything on offense until Carl Hagelin beat Ryan Miller on a wraparound  at 18:42 of the first period. Brad Richards added his first goal of the night off a deflected slap shot less than a minute later at 19:39 and Ryane Clowe got a gift goal 17 seconds later after Ryan Miller misplayed a clearing attempt with just four seconds left in the period, and within a blink of an eye the Rangers had a 3-0 lead going into the first intermission.

The second period opened with more of the same. Anton Stralman scored a goal off a wrist shot from the right circle 1:13 into the second period that chased Ryan Miller from the game, and Richards potted his second of the night 27 seconds later. Rick Nash added another goal at 7:05 and before you knew it the Rangers had a 6-0 lead. All good, right? Sort of. The Sabres answered with a power play goal at 13:50 from Cody Hodgson and scored another quick goal six seconds later after Nathan Gerbe intercepted a terrible Michael Del Zotto pass. Suddenly, it was 6-2 and I think every Ranger fan was instantly reminded of the Montreal Meltdown when they blew a 5-0 lead a few years back. But fear not, because Ryan Callahan answered the call 32 seconds later with a goal on a breakaway, and that was pretty much that. The Sabres added another goal to make it 7-3 going into the second intermission, but that was pretty much that. Richards got his hat trick goal 12:32 into the third period and the Sabres got one more goal in garbage time to give you a final score of 8-4. Just like how you drew it up, right?


It certainly wasn't pretty, and was truly scary how many defensive breakdowns the Rangers had after jumping out to a 6-0 lead. Plus, Henrik Lundqvist was far from his sharpest. But two points is two points and the Rangers will gladly take it. The Rangers were benefited by a few cheap goals and weird plays that they normally never get, but anytime you score eight goals in a game it's not without some crazy luck and weird bounces. It was one of those games that was probably a coach's nightmare and I wouldn't be surprised if John Tortorella totally throws all footage of last night's game out the window since it really wasn't pretty.

Anyway, Brad Richards finally showed up in a big way. As mentioned, his hat trick was the first of his career and last night's breakout game came after he registered a goal and an assist in the third period against the Panthers the night before. If the Rangers can get Brad Richards going now, it would obviously be a gigantic boost for the team's offense going forward. Richie has struggled this year but he can definitely right the ship if he has a strong finish to the regular season and an even stronger performance in the postseason (assuming the Rangers make it).

Some other notes:

- With last night's win in regulation, the Rangers officially eliminated the Flyers and Sabres from the playoffs.

- Brad Richards now has five points (four goals, one assist) in his last two games after having one point (an assist) in the six games prior.

- Rick Nash also has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last two games and 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in 10 games in April.

- Derick Brassard was held without a point for the first time since April 8, but finished the game with a plus-2 rating.

- Henrik Lundqvist registered an assist on Carl Hagelin's goal, giving him his first point of the season.

- Ryane Clowe has three points (one goal, two assists) in his last two games, giving him two goals and five assists for seven points in 9 games as a Ranger, along with 14 penalty minutes.

- John Moore registered an assist in 12:51 TOI (with 16 seconds of power play time) and now has one goal and three assists for four points in 9 games as a Ranger.

- Ryan Callahan scored his first goal since April 6 against the Hurricanes.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Rangers Get Set For Rematch Against Pittsburgh Tonight

The Rangers are back in action tonight in Pittsburgh as the team concludes a home-and-home matchup against the Penguins. The lineups will remain the same (as they obviously should) and Henrik Lundqvist will once again be back in net. That means the lines tonight will be as follows:

Rick Nash-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan
Ryane Clowe-Brad Richards-Mats Zuccarello
Carl Hagelin-Derick Brassard-Brian Boyle
Taylor Pyatt-Darroll Powe-Arron Asham

Michael Del Zotto-Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh-Anton Stralman
John Moore-Steve Eminger

Marc Staal is with the team accompanying them on their road trip, but don't get too excited. Rangers beat writer Andrew Gross says it's only to see his brothers when the Rangers travel to Carolina for their game tomorrow night. Staal will reportedly not travel with the team from there once they head off to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs on Monday.

Also, J.T. Miller is still with the team and technically on the Rangers' active roster, although you likely won't see him back in the lineup anytime soon. Miller is once again battling through a wrist injury that he first suffered a few weeks ago. He was on the ice for optional practice today, but did not do any passing or shooting drills and considers himself "day to day." I didn't think Miller was playing particularly well anyway, so it's probably best for him to sit back and observe the team from the press box for a few games. When asked about possibly needing wrist surgery, Miller only said that it's not an option "right now."

More to come after the game tonight. I'll be very interested to see how the team overall plays tonight when you consider the fact that the Penguins are likely going to come out way more determined than they were in their 6-1 drubbing on Wednesday at the Garden. John Tortorella will need to have his team well-prepared for a different Pens team showing up tonight.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

New Look Rangers Shine In 6-1 Thrashing Of Penguins

I tweeted this last night during the game: if the Rangers team I was watching last night was a dream, then I hope I never wake up.

Everything that could've possibly gone right for the Rangers last night did, and they were led to the win thanks in large part to their three newest acquisitions. Ryane Clowe, who had been previously held without a goal in 28 games with the Sharks this season, recorded his first two goals of the season and also chipped in with an assist. His stat-sheet, though, really doesn't even begin to tell the full story of the impact he had last night. Clowe was an absolute monster, hitting everybody on the ice and getting in on the forecheck during every one of his shifts. Not to be outdone, Derick Brassard added a goal and three assists of his own, while John Moore capped off the scoring with his first goal of the year and finished with 14:09 TOI.

Brassard and Moore arrived at Madison Square Garden about 15 minutes before warmups, so they barely just had enough time to meet their new coach and teammates before getting dressed and being thrown into the fray. They admitted after the game that the fact they were really running on adrenaline and had no time to sit down and let everything sink in likely played a large role in the way they played last night. John Tortorella's quote best summed things up:

“Sometimes you do too much coaching,” Tortorella said.

I believe that quote is spot on, and I don't think it's a coincidence that this team played the best it has in weeks mainly because the newest Rangers simply just went out there and played hockey without having strategies and a new system beat repeatedly into their heads. The team just looked completely re-energized right from the start. Brian Boyle played easily his best game of the season (likely because he was relieved he wasn't traded at the deadline), finishing with a goal and three assists in 16:12 TOI, including 2:14 on the power play. His goal came after he deflected a Brad Richards shot from the point on the power play to put the Rangers up 1-0 in the first period, and they never looked back. Richards also had an outstanding game, recording three assists on the night. He seemed to be skating noticeably better and looked like the elite playmaker the Rangers had last season. Ryan McDonagh also added his third goal of the season.

Interesting to note from last night is that the distribution of ice time amongst all players was spread out relatively evenly. Granted, a large part of that was likely due to the fact that the Rangers had such a large lead that they were able to give their bottom six forwards more ice time once the game was out of reach, but still. It'll be interesting to see how Torts continues to divide ice time now that Marian Gaborik is no longer here and he has a quality defenseman over John Moore, who is obviously a huge upgrade over Matt Gilroy and Roman Hamrlik on the third D-pairing.

Finally, some telling quotes from Marian Gaborik after he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets yesterday afternoon:

"I had a lot of fun in New York but the way this kind of played out that actually one team wants me and indicate they are going in the right direction and wanted to trade for me,” Gaborik added. “When I was in New York we didn’t really perform the way we should, myself included. It wasn’t the way anybody expected.”
“You can see this team is going in the right direction. I believe this change will help myself and help (New York) and help Columbus.”
“I didn’t have fun this year. I don’t think the whole team has at all, too, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

As for reports of a bad relationship with Tortorella, Gaborik, like Tortorella, downplayed any rift.
“The media makes a whole lot more than it actually is. There was nothing there for me. It was nothing personal. Sometimes we didn’t see eye-to-eye but that’s it. That’s hockey. Everybody goes through stuff like that with their coaches.”
Rangers Rants

Also, in a tremendously classy move, Gaborik took to Twitter (his first tweet in nearly two months) to thank the Rangers' organization and fans for their support during his tenure here.

I'm not fully buying all the nice-nice talk that Gaborik and John Tortorella have spoken about each other through the media within the last day, but there's no doubt both men respected each other. I firmly believe that Torts was asking Gaborik to play a style of hockey that just wasn't in his nature and Gaby had a hard time adjusting. I have no doubt Gaborik will rebound playing in Columbus, and I certainly wish him the best. Gaborik got a lot of flack from Rangers fans during his tenure here, most of which I never really understood. Gaborik had two extremely productive seasons on Broadway and gave the team one of their most thrilling wins in recent history with his game-winner in triple overtime last year against the Capitals in the playoffs.

I also thought Gaborik's comments about the team not having fun this year is pretty telling. It's never fun losing, but the team was playing noticeably looser last night for the first time all season and I don't think it's any coincidence they had their most convincing win all year.

Meanwhile, the Rangers are practicing today before heading to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins again tomorrow night. I don't think there's any doubt the Penguins team that shows up tomorrow night will be a hundred times better than the one that showed up last night, so the Rangers will have to be ready and well-prepared.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Breaking News: Marian Gaborik Traded To Columbus Blue Jackets

Well, I'm officially stunned. According to reports, the Rangers have agreed to trade Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for defenseman John Moore, forwards Derek Dorsett and Derick Brassard and a sixth round draft pick. Gaborik still needs to officially approve the deal by waiving his no-trade clause.

More to come soon. I gotta believe Gaborik and John Tortorella just both needed a change of scenery.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reports: Rangers Acquire LW Ryane Clowe From San Jose Sharks

The Rangers have made their first trade as the trade deadline approaches tomorrow, and it's a pretty big one. According to reports, the Rangers have acquired left wing Ryane Clowe from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a second and third round draft pick. The Sharks will also receive an additional second round pick in next year's draft if Clowe re-signs with the Rangers after the season. This doesn't seem to just be a a rental, though, because according to Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet, the "assumption is a new deal will eventually get done." Clowe reportedly had his choice between joining the Rangers or Canucks and he chose the Rangers.

Katie Strang of ESPN also Tweeted that Clowe is currently making travel arrangements to get to New York in time to suit up for tomorrow night's game against the Penguins at Madison Square Garden.

Additionally, Darren Dreger of TSN Tweeted that even with the addition of Clowe, the Rangers "may not be done as the possibility of adding a D-man exists."

Clowe, 29, has posted just 11 assists and no goals in 28 games this season to go along with 79 penalty minutes, but he's just one year removed from a season in which he put up 17 goals, 28 assists and 97 penalty minutes in 75 games. Think of this as more of a Sean Avery/Brandon Prust-type move, though. Clowe is not here to put up goals and get top six minutes. His job will be to skate on the third line, throw hits, drop the gloves to stick up for his teammates and chip in with a goal every now and then doing dirty work down low in front of the net.

I really, really like this move. I never thought it was realistic to expect the Rangers to add a top six forward at the deadline, nor did I think it was necessary. The only way adding another goal-scorer would work is by unloading Marian Gaborik's contract somewhere else, which isn't likely to happen, nor do I think it's smart. The Rangers have all the tools to score more goals and it's really up to Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin to get their acts together. I don't think anybody that Glen Sather could trade for would be a real significant upgrade on either Gaby or Richie.

More to come later as more details unfold.