The game seemed out of reach for the goal-starved New York Rangers. Trailing 3-0 halfway through the 2nd period to a stingy Bruins team, the Blueshirts mounted an utterly improbable comeback, scoring five consecutive goals to win 5-3. But this wasn’t just a big two points for a team desperate to squeeze into the playoffs. It was a defining moment for a team that has been biting, clawing, hitting and shot-blocking its way to victories all season long. And in this case, they had 10 big obstacles to overcome for a victory to be even remotely possible…
The Rangers had scored a total of seven goals in six games prior to last night's five-goal outburst. That's not going to work, even with Henrik Lundqvist in net.
Winning draws has been a big issue for the Blueshirts all season. If you can't win faceoffs, time of possession and special teams both suffer. Last night the Bruins outdueled the Rangers 27-20 on draws. The Bruins' Patrice Bergeron was 10-5 on faceoffs. Gregory Campbell was 7-3. Only one Ranger was in the “plus” category, and that was Erik Christensen, who was a mere 1-0 on faceoffs.
One of the most remarkable stories for New York this season has been the way one of the youngest defenses in the league has responded. The second unit of McDonagh-Sauer has been trusted with key minutes just behind Staal-Girardi all season long. In the prior game against Philly, Ryan McDonagh played 33 shifts with 21:52 of ice time. His regular partner Sauer had virtually identical stats. But against the Bruins, McDonagh went through a rough patch and ceded his minutes to Steve Eminger. McDonagh finished the game with 18 shifts and a greatly reduced 14:02 of ice time. Still, the Rangers' D hung in there long enough for the game to turn around.
In the first 20 minutes, the ice was severely tilted toward Lundqvist, as the Rangers were outshot 19-5. As the game went on, the Rangers imposed their will more and more. Still, it felt like for every Rangers rush, there was a quality scoring chance at the other end. The King just outplayed Tim Thomas on this occasion.
Every Rangers-Bruins game seems to be a one-goal affair...and usually a war between goaltenders. Thomas still made plenty of difficult saves, but that "no-style" goaltending style Thomas is known for got him into more trouble than usual. He was all over the crease and finished 21-25 with a .840 save percentage.
You'd think that would be a good thing, but the Rangers have been better, stronger and clearer about their team identity on the road all season. Before last night, their record was 24-16-1 on the road and only 18-16-4 at Madison Square Garden.
The Bruins granted the Rangers four big chances to capitalize on the power play, but it went 0-4. There's no doubt the Rangers' power play is much improved since Bryan McCabe joined the roster and took over (Someone is actually skating to the middle of the ice and booming a slap shot!). It just hasn't registered much on the scoreboard yet. Perhaps in the playoffs?
With nothing working, coach John Tortorella mixed and matched his lines until something, anything clicked. That something was the strange trio of Vinny Prospal-Derek Stepan-Wojtek Wolski, with the wingers connecting on the Rangers' first two goals. Wolski has been streaky in a bad way for a long time, and Prospal has struggled to ignite Marian Gaborik in recent weeks, not that it's Prospal’s responsibility to get the Rangers' supposed sniper going. Prospal played a season-high 21:14.
The Bruins rely on some stingy defense, but they do have some dangerous offensive players. It seemed the other shoe was bound to drop, but it never did.
When NYR tied the game on incredible hustle and a whirling play from Ryan Callahan to linemate and fellow heart-and-soul player Brandon Dubinsky, every Rangers fan in the building just wanted to hold on for overtime. One point in the standings was crucial, and then the team could try to survive 4-on-4 and triumph in another shootout.
When Sauer's dribbler found its way barely past the line to make it 4-3 Rangers, the building was as stunned as it was ecstatic. The empty-netter was icing on the cake. A regulation win after being down 3-0 in the 2nd against Boston? Unthinkable. It was a shocking win with major implications for bubble teams Carolina and Buffalo.