Bobby Holik. Mark Messier. Petr Nedved. Those were the three goal scorers the last time the New York Rangers defeated the Detroit Red Wings (October 25th, 2003.) On that team’s entire roster only Tom Poti is still in the NHL, though his career is for all intents and purposes over.
But tonight the 2011-2012 Rangers got it done once again. Sure the Red Wings were missing Jimmy Howard, Johan Franzen, and Nik Lidstrom, but the Rangers are hardly 100% healthy themselves and the Detroit Red Wings are still the Detroit Red Wings. In what sure felt like a playoff game, the Rangers matched the Red Wings in all areas of the ice and perhaps even surpassing them in most. They outhit and outshot the Redwings and took only one penalty the entire game. The Rangers have played two tough teams the past couple of games and they stepped up and played a complete game in each. Let’s look at some post-game notes.
Ryan Callahan- It would be a disservice to the Birthday Boy if we didn’t start with him. Tonight might have been the game this season that best exemplifies the kind of player Ryan Callahan is. He dove to break up what would have been a breakaway for one of the most lethal breakaway forwards in the NHL. He blocked two shots, including one late in the game where he sprinted across the defensive zone and put himself in serious risk of injury. He had three hits and eight shots. And when the Rangers needed someone to step up, our captain sniped one past Ty Conklin to give the Rangers the overtime victory. Great defensive plays. Putting his health at risk. Phyical play in all parts of the rink. Persistent in generating offense. And coming up clutch. We saw all of that tonight from Ryan Callahan tonight. The Detroit Red Wings have prided themselves the last two decades in developing and acquiring players who excel in all aspects. Tonight, Ryan Callahan beat them at their own game.
Though not his or anyone else’s biggest concern right now, it is worth pointing out that Callahan has nine games to score three goals and reach the 30 goal-mark for the first time in his career. It would be an incredible accomplishment for him to do so.
Henrik Lundqvist- The goal he let in was soft and he’s probably sitting in the locker room pissed off he let it in, win or not. But from then on he was flawless. His positioning was spot-on the rest of the night and he came up with some huge saves, including denying Filpulla on a breakaway and some key stops on some heavy shots in the final minutes of the third period.
Brad Richards- He won only 2 of 18 faceoffs tonight, which is absolutely terrible. In his defense, though, he was up against Pavel Datsyuk the entire night, who is one of the best in the league at faceoffs (and everything else). He came up big in a game where the Rangers needed him to come up big, scoring perhaps the best goal of the season for the Rangers with an end-to-end rush and undressing Niklas Kronwall, one of the better defensive defensemen in the league. The Rangers don’t need Richards to carry the team on his back but we need him to contribute consistently, which he is starting to do.
Brandon Dubinsky- Another player who is not having his best season but is turning on the jets at the right time. He worked hard the entire night in both ends of the rink, used his body and strength to shield the puck and draw a penalty on Kyle Quincey, and did most of the work on the overtime goal, skating the puck end-to-end before laying it off to Del Zotto.
I think what might have been part of Dubinsky’s problem for much of the season is that his role has changed dramatically and he’s failed to adjust. The past couple of years he’s been one of the top forwards on the team and relied on in key offensive situations. The makeup of the current roster calls for him to not do everything himself so much and slip into a secondary offensive role. I think he’s perhaps finally finding himself and his role on the team. Brad Marchand was not at all the best player on the Bruins last season but he was a key part of their Stanley Cup run; playing physical while chipping in timely goals. Dubinsky could very well be that kind of player for the Rangers going into the playoffs.
Defense Not Named Del Zotto- Del Zotto made a good play to set up the overtime winner but aside from that was brutal tonight. It happens, but it still wasn’t good. Aside from him, though, I thought the defense was fantastic tonight. As I already pointed out the Red Wings were missing some players, but there was still a tremendous amount of talent and scoring ability in their lineup tonight. To hold Zetterberg and Datsyuk to four combined shots in almost 63 minutes is a tremendous effort, and Zetterberg’s goal was not much the fault of the defense. They did a good job of not letting the Red Wings penetrate the blue line, which the forwards deserve credit for as well. The Red Wings are the sixth most productive offense in the NHL so holding them to one goal speaks a lot to the work of defense and specifically Staal, Girardi and McDonagh.
I thought the Detroit Red Wings played well tonight, and that says a lot about this Rangers’ team. The Detroit Red Wings, one of the constantly great teams in the league, played a very good game and the Rangers outplayed them. This is a team ready to not just participate in the playoffs but compete with the top teams.
Right now the Rangers are three points ahead of the Penguins for the divison and conference lead, though the Penguins have a game in hand. At 99 points and with 9 games left to play, it would take something cataclysmic for the Rangers to not reach triple digits for the first time since the 1993-1994 season.