With just six games remaining and the coveted prize of winning home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs dangling like a carrot in front of the New York Rangers, every game is sure to be filled with much intensity.
This isn't just for the team themselves, but also for the fans who sweat it out as they watch their teams advance or regress in points, depending upon the outcome of the game.
And Tuesday night was no exception, especially considering the Pittsburgh Penguins have been breathing down the Rangers' backs and proving to be a worthy contender.
Going into Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins were once again only one point behind the New York Rangers, but their 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders and the Rangers 3-2 win against the Minnesota Wild, advanced the Rangers three points ahead of them in the standings and a little more breathing room.
It was somewhat of a sentimental night for a few of the Rangers as Marian Gaborik, (who had started his NHL career and played eight years with the Minnesota Wild franchise) returned for only his second game against his former team since leaving them to play for the Rangers in 2009.
Stellar defenseman Ryan McDonagh also had some history in the Xcel Energy Center. McDonagh grew up in St. Paul, Minn. and played a couple of high school games in that arena, as well as playing for the Wisconsin Badgers. He was quoted in a New York Times article by Jeff Z. Klein on March 27th, stating:
“My dream of playing pro hockey started in this building when the Wild came here.”
And lastly, Derek Stepan was born and raised in Hastings, Minn. and played his freshman year for the Wisconsin Badgers as well.
That being said, the energy on the Rangers bench and on the ice during the first period was electrifying.
The Blueshirts put a lot of pressure on the Wild to start the game, which announcers Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti mentioned numerous times as one major thing head coach John Tortorella was looking to accomplish going into the game.
After a terrible call by the ref, which denied the Rangers a goal earlier in the first, Brian Boyle scored a rebound in the crease at 11:23 to give them a 1-0 lead going into the second period.
The Wild, however, came back strong in the second period and capitalized on Boyle's delay-of-play penalty to tie the game 1-1.
Gaborik then scored a beauty off of a pass by set up man Brad Richards to reclaim the Rangers lead 2-1 (as boos erupted throughout the crowd).
The Wild were quick to answer back with a second power play goal, (which was surprising, given the Rangers normal strength on the penalty kill), once again tying the game at a score of 2-2.
Ruslan Fedotenko scored big with the go-ahead goal with just under seven minutes left in the game off a pass by McDonagh (his second assist of the night) to give the Rangers the lead and ultimately the win.
Rangers' netminder Henrik Lundqvist was on point stopping 24 shots and looking like the Lundqvist that we all know and trust.
The Rangers head to Winnipeg tonight to take on the Jets, who with 78 points and in ninth overall in the Eastern Conference don't stand much of a chance of making the playoffs. Still, that doesn't mean an easy win.
If the Rangers can keep the same intensity from their first period of play against the Wild on Tuesday night throughout their entire game against the Jets tonight, they stand the chance of advancing their lead to five points over the Penguins (who are scheduled for a rematch against the Islanders Thursday night).