Rangers slide back into final playoff spot with win
Thirty-five games spanning two-and-a-half months have shown that the 2013 New York Rangers are flawed.
But flawed teams can qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We’ve underachieved so far this year,” Ryan Callahan said after the Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Jets Monday night at the Garden. The win guarantees that the Rangers will wake up today as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, despite the Islanders’ 3-1 win over the Devils at the Prudential Center.
The Rangers and Islanders each have 37 points. Both trail the seventh-seeded Devils by two points. The Rangers have one fewer regulation loss than the Islanders.
The Rangers have a game in hand on both the Islanders and Devils. The Islanders and Devils have 12 games remaining this season. The Rangers have 13 left.
“We just have to make it and that’s the attitude we have right now,” Callahan said. “We got to get into the playoffs and it’s a new season. You saw it last year.”
In what was the most important game of the season up to this point, the Rangers ended a two-game losing streak in which they were unable to register a single goal.
Prior to the game, head coach John Tortorella reshuffled the forward lines and defensive pairs. It paid off, as the top line of Callahan, Derek Stepan and Rick Nash combined for eight points.
Callahan finished with four points (a goal and three assists). Rick Nash scored a goal and added an assist. Derek Stepan, who has been the Rangers’ best player this season, scored two goals.
“Cally had a heck of a game. That makes the chemistry certainly work itself out and Rick has been a special player since he’s been here,” Stepan said.
Stepan opened the scoring 19 seconds into the game with his 11th goal of the season, and his second goal of the game was the game-winner.
Stepan’s first, a snapshot that beat Ondrej Pavelec (31 saves) five-hole, ended the Rangers’ shutout streak at 128:06.
“Getting that goal right away, Step’s goal, [was] a pretty good confidence booster,” Dan Girardi said. “We finally get a goal. We know we can put it in the net.”
But for all of the positive feelings Stepan’s goal created, the Rangers trailed 2-1 early in the second and were down two men after Mats Zuccarello (high-sticking) and Girardi (tripping) took two-minute minors 1:21 apart.
But as his penalty expired, Zuccarello came out of the box and made a backhand touch pass to an oncoming Callahan. The two forwards came in on a two-on-one against Tobias Enstrom. The Winnipeg defenseman sprawled to the ice to take away the pass, but Callahan held onto the puck and cut toward the middle of the ice before tucking the puck past Pavelec.
“We get some fortunate bounces,” Tortorella said. “It certainly sparked us. As far as Ryan Callahan, it’s a huge play in the game. Not only killing the penalties but [the] wherewithal to kill and keep the puck and score a big goal like that. I thought we took off from there. I thought we took over the game from there.”
And, he hopes, maybe found some of the qualities that marked the 2011-12 team.
“I think they have confidence,” Tortorella said. “It’s just when something doesn’t go right for them in the game, we lost a little bit of that quick resiliency. Maybe tonight we find a way to come back; maybe this was a good lesson for us. They have to grab something to keep themselves aware that we’re not dead yet here because [an opponent] scored.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.