No, merely making the playoffs has not been the goal for a long time now. But let’s also put it into perspective. It’s nice not having to hold our breaths until the final games of the season hoping that the Rangers could find a way to claw their way into the playoffs.
A big, big thank you goes out to Devils’ coach Peter Deboer. The Rangers have lost some of their bite in the month of March and have had a difficult time getting things going against the Devils in the previous matchups. Tonight, Deboer threw out Carter, Boulton, and Clarkson to start the game, essentially asking for fights. Tortorella, pissed off as he was, made a statement himself by putting Stu Bickel at center as he, Prust, and Rupp answered. From there, the Rangers got the early momentum, scored a quick goal, and played with the fight and hustle that has not been completely there. Though it was a one goal game for long periods of time, the Devils never really had much of a chance tonight. Let’s look at some game notes.
Brandon Dubinsky- Tonight was a playoff-like game and Brandon Dubinsky showed up. As bad as Dubinsky’s season has been, he has the ability to make up for it in these upcoming games which could determine playoff seeding as well as in the playoffs itself. He scored the first goal of the game with a great wrist shot and tilted the ice heavily in the team’s favor.
A goal and an assist, four shots, two blocked shots, five hits, a takeaway, and 8 for 13 on faceoffs. This is the kind of performance Brandon Dubinsky is capable of and it’s incredibly infuriating that he is unable to play this way more consistently. But as I said, he’s showing up at the right time and if he can continue to play this well in both ends of the ice then he can salvage what has been a brutal season for him.
Derek Stepan- He wasn’t one of the three stars tonight but I thought he deserved to be. Though he initially whiffed on the pass, he adjusted and poked the puck to Dubinsky just enough to set him up for the early goal. Later on he made a fantastic deflection on Dubinsky’s shot to beat Brodeur and seal the game. What’s also impressive is that Stepan played a big part in shutting down the Devils’ power play. Stepan was a responsible player in the defensive zone coming out of college but the coaching staff has made Stepan into an above-average defensive player.
Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust- The two are not scoring nearly as much as they did last season but they are a huge part of this team. Their contributions on the ice are microcosms of what John Tortorella preaches in terms of forechecking and work away from the puck. Boyle blocked two shots, threw six hits, won 13 of 18 faceoffs and led the team in PK minutes. Prust took part in the opening minute fighting, and was 2nd on the team in PK minutes. He fought threw pain the entire night. When you look at high skilled teams that faltered in the playoffs they usually lack the role players. Prust and Boyle aren’t going to win any awards for what they do but they are an integral part of this team’s success.
Mats Zuccarello- Scored tonight for the second game in a row, and for the second game in a row he scored because he crashed the net. Aside from that it’s clear that he is a much more complete player since returning from the Whale. He partook in the forechecking tonight and made an effort to break up plays defensively. He even managed three hits. We all know Zuccarello has skill and can make some creative plays from the perimeter. The question is if he is willing to do the other things to make a difference. It’s been in Swedish and Norwegian news time and time again that Zuccarello was unhappy with being stuck in Connecticut and at one point his agent is believed to have requested a trade. But it is evident to me that Zuccarello’s stay in Connecticut was for the best.
The Rangers gain an important two points in the standings and prevent the Devils from picking up any points of their own, which almost certainly eliminates the possibility of the Devils surpassing the Rangers. More importantly, the Rangers needed a win like this tonight against a rival team like the Devils.