Who would ever think a game between two teams from different conferences in December would mean so much? While it wasn’t a big factor in the standings, Saturday night’s Rangers-Sharks affair in San Jose certainly meant a lot in terms of supremacy in the NHL.
The 3-2 victory for the Western Conference Sharks proved they are still the most dominant team in the league, but the Rangers proved that even after a devastating start, they could stick with the very best in the league.
The Rangers got off to a rough start when Paul Mara went to the penalty box for holding 2:31 into the first period. Just under a minute later, Blair Betts went for high-sticking, leaving the Rangers down two men for 1:08. Despite having the best penalty kill in the league, even the Rangers couldn’t stop a relentless Sharks' attack.
Dan Boyle fired a slapper past Henrik Lundqvist 4:27 in. Then, just 25 seconds later, Ryane Clowe batted home a rebound to put the Sharks in front 2-0. It was the first time the Rangers stout PK had given up two power play goals in a game since October 15th vs. Buffalo, which was the Blueshirts’ first loss of the year.
Tom Renney called a timeout immediately after to calm down his team and the raucous HP Pavilion Crowd, and it worked. The Rangers dominated most of the period from that point on, and 10:34 in, Nikolai Zherdev capitalized on a great defensive play and fired a shot past Evgeni Nabokov shorthanded to bring New York back within one.
Both sides had good chances early in the second, but the Sharks benefited from good fore checking first when Patrick Marleau netted his 17th goal of the year 6:20 in. After a great penalty kill by the Rangers on a Fredrik Sjostrom interference call, Ryan Callahan smacked home a loose puck in front, at just about the halfway mark to bring the deficit back to a goal.
The third period was a showcase among both goaltenders, with Nabokov making several huge saves when the Rangers put an unbelievable amount of pressure on the Sharks late in the frame. New York out-shot San Jose 17-7 in the third and 34-30 in the game, but it was the brilliant play of Nabokov and potent power play right out of the gate that gave the Sharks the win.
The Rangers still have a lot to be proud of, though. They went 2-1 on the road trip to the west coast and played very evenly with the best team in the league. Now, they can regroup before they begin a crucial three-game home stand, with games against the Capitals, Devils, and Islanders and a stretch of nine-straight against Eastern Conference opponents. Those will certainly mean more in the standings!