Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, and Stu Bickel are all natives of Minnesota while Marian Gaborik was drafted by and spent the first eight years of his career with the Wild, so it was a return for multiple players. The Wild, who at one point led the NHL in points, are now a potential participant in the lottery draft and certainly played like that tonight. As usual for the Rangers, the score remained close the entire game but in reality the Wild has no business being on the ice with the Rangers. The Rangers outshot them, almost tripled them in hits, won more faceoffs, and really just were superior in most facets of the game. The 3-2 score does not really do the Rangers justice as Minnesota did not have much of a chance tonight, but nonetheless the Rangers walk away with their two points and will be happy to do so. Let’s look at some post-game observations.
Marian Gaborik- In his second career game against his former team he scored his first goal. Marian’s been pretty consistent this whole season but he’s definitely picked his play up in the month of March, when perhaps he’s been needed most. Nine goals and seven assists in 15 games this month. Gaborik’s next goal will be the 40th of the season.
Brad Richards- As good as Gaborik has been in the month of March, Richards has been even better. His backhand pass to Gaborik in the slot on Gaborik’s goal was superb and he was active in the offensive zone the whole night. Aside from his assist, he ended tonight with five shots and went 9 for 15 on faceoffs. Perhaps it took longer than anticipated, but Richards finally looks comfortable on a line with Gaborik and on the ice in general. All things considered, 60 points this far into the season is not the worst thing in the world.
Brandon Dubinsky- The Jekyll and Hyde act continues. Last game, Dubinsky scored but was otherwise brutal and was relegated to the fourth line by John Tortorella. Tonight Dubinsky was one of the best players on the ice. His neutral zone play and specifically defensive awareness on the backcheck was topnotch tonight. He intercepted Minnesota passes twice in the first period and worked hard in the slot to free the puck and get a shot off that Brian Boyle helped into the net. If Dubinsky can play like he did tonight every game then Tortorella will be happy.
Anton Stralman- Tortorella decided to take out Tim Erixon tonight and put Stralman back in. In his first game since March 15th, Stralman played well and was rewarded with 18:35 of icetime. Stralman clanged one off the post that Dubinsky and Boyle eventually worked into the net and he was responsible defensively. He also led the team in blocked shots. Even with Steve Eminger’s health in question, Tortorella has a whole slew of options for the bottom defensive pairing and it appears that he’s trying to figure out exactly who he’s going to roll with once the playoffs start. Though one game isn’t going to make up Tortorella’s mind, Stralman definitely did himself a favor with his play tonight and I’d expect him to be in the lineup once again tomorrow night.
Ryan McDonagh- In his return home he was nominated as the first star. Two assists tonight, including one that set up the game winner for Ruslan Fedotenko. Granted, that was a bit reliant on Fedotenko being in the right place at the right time, but McDonagh did the work to get the puck to the half boards and center it. This was one of those games where, had it been on NBC, Pierre McGuire would be mentioning “former Wisconsin Badger Ryan McDonagh” every three minutes because he did the big things and little things well tonight.
The New York Islanders of all teams did us a HUGE favor tonight by defeating the Penguins in Pittsburgh 5-3. Thus, the Rangers are now three points ahead of the Penguins with seven games remaining in the season. The win tonight for the Rangers also permanently puts them ahead of the Devils and therefore guarantees them a top-5 seed. Three wins would guarantee the Rangers home-ice advantage as well.