657823762_slide

courtesy of NHL.com

I was so worried about last night’s game. With the Rangers limping through the last month or so, hovering around .500, I figured that the Kings’ size and grit would see us drop this one. The trip out to the West Coast seems to have screwed it on straight for the Rangers. Antti Raanta was superb, they managed to win the special teams battle, and the Kings actually weren’t able to physically dominate the Rangers. All in all, a great showing for yet another road victory that sees the Rangers a mere 2 points away from clinching a playoff spot. As usual, stats and all that good stuff are courtesy of NHL.com.

Quick Stats:

First Period Scoring-

  • none

Second Period Scoring-

  • 13:02 NEW YORK GOAL Derek Stepan; Assists: Brendan Smith, Mats Zuccarello

Third Period

  • 1:50 NEW YORK GOAL (PP) Ryan McDonagh; Assists: Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad
  • 18:52 NEW YORK GOAL (EN) Rick Nash; Assist: Mika Zibanejad, Dan Girardi

Three Stars-

  1. Antti Raanta, NYR: 30 Saves, Shutout, Win
  2. Derek Stepan NYR: 1 Goal
  3. Ryan McDonagh, NYR: PP Goal

 

Impressions:

  • Antti Raanta earned the Broadway Hat after turning in perhaps his best performance of the season. The Rangers were pretty stout in front of him, but he still was called upon for a number of timely saves. He was able to stop Tyler Toffoli, Nic Dowd and rookie Jonny Brodzinski on breakaways en route to a 30-save shutout. It will be tough to sit such a hot goalie with Hank returning to the lineup, but AV could certainly always go back to him. I know its pretty blasphemous to suggest that Henrik Lundqvist ever be sat in favor of his backup, but ultimately it’s about winning a championship. The Penguins sat Cup winner Marc-Andrea Fleury, riding backup Matt Murray to a championship. I’m not necessarily saying it should happen, but its nice to have the option.
  • The countdown begins. This huge road win sees the Rangers only 2 points away from playoff qualification. With Henrik Lundqvist returning from injury against Anaheim and Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein also regaining their health, clinching soon helps the team so much. With that all important checkmark, the pressure will be off and team can focus on improving certain areas of play, specifically defensive assignments and the PK, ahead of the playoffs.
  • The Kings have one of the worst offenses in the league, which is why they’re all but out of the playoff race. But, they still have that great physical edge to their play that makes them a tough opponent on any night. Surprisingly, the Rangers were able to match the Kings’ level of physicality. I really liked Chris Kreider and Oscar Lindberg crashing the net and mixing it up with Jonathan Quick. It definitely seemed to get Quick pissed off and off his game. The best play in this department had to be Mats Zuccarello’s effort on the Stepan goal. He used his speed to negate an icing and then won a puck battle below the goal line against a much bigger Anzer Kopitar, which led to the scoring chance. The Rangers are not constructed to be a bruising team like the Kings and some of their Western Conference peers, but its crucial that they continue to sprinkle in some physical play.
  • Some of the Rangers’ key top-6 forwards had great offensive showings. Derek Stepan punched home a rebound to record yet another 50-point season, Mika Zibanejad had two assists, and Mats Zuccarello also tallied two helpers to make it 8 points in his last 7 games. All three of these players have had recent stretches of goal or point droughts, so its a huge boost for the team that these key guys are recording points right before the playoffs roll around. Derek Stepan will want to improve on his 21% face-off win percentage, but it otherwise was a productive evening for three of the most important Rangers.
  • The Rangers finally won the special teams battle and snapping the ugly 8-game streak of conceding at least one power-play goal. Not only did they kill all 4 Kings’ power-plays, but they did so in the third period to protect a lead. This included a sequence of 2 consecutive penalties by Chris Krieder, who ended up with a hat-trick of penalties in the 3rd period. During the last Krieder penalty, the Rangers even killed off over a minute of 6-on-4 time. The PK units did a great job holding their shape and not getting drawn to one side of the ice, as they have been for weeks now. The performance of the special teams was the single biggest takeaway from this game.
  • Dan Girardi returned to the lineup after missing a ton of time with that pesky cut on his ankle that just wouldn’t heal to turn in an excellent performance. He played over 20 minutes, drew crucial PK time, and even tallied an assist on the Nash goal. It was a great return for a guy who, like it or not, is a crucial piece of the defense. It was also interesting to note that Girardi came back into the lineup, but Kevin Klein was still held out, despite being declared healthy. AV said that he did not want to dress 2 newly-healthy defensemen in the same game, but I think it all relates back to my and basically everyone’s opinion that AV favors Girardi and would play him over Klein once the entire defensive corps is healthy. Klein’s opportunity to play may be further limited in the interim but Nick Holden’s play to disrupt Tylor Toffoli on his breakaway. That play alone was probably enough to save his job for the time being.