John Tortorella was emphatic in his belief that last night’s match was important despite the quality of the opponent.
Yes, the Rangers had won three in a row against San Jose, Anaheim and Montreal, but the coach expressed both a short- and long-term view of the two points that were up for grabs.
“When you go into back-to-back situations and we’re 3-1-1 in our homestand right now, these are huge points come March and April,” Tortorella said before the Rangers’ 3-0 win over the reincarnated Winnipeg Jets at the Garden Sunday night.
Marian Gaborik had two goals and an assist and Derek Stepan had a goal and an assist. Martin Biron turned away 27 shots for his 27th career shutout, but his first since a 5-0 whitewash of the Sabres, while he was still a member of the Islanders.
“It’s about two years ago. It was early in the year then, too,” Biron said. “It feels great. I used to play it down, but not anymore. They’re hard to come by in this league and when you have one, you have to enjoy it very much.”
Last night’s game was a halted affair, the byproduct of two teams that had played 24 hours earlier. Couple that with a distracted atmosphere, as those in attendance—at least initially—were interested in the finish of the Giants-Patriots game. The loudest cheer of the night was for Eli Manning’s game-winning, one-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ballard. Immediately at the conclusion of that game, the Garden crowd referenced Tom Brady in a chant that had been the exclusive domain of Denis Potvin since the former Islanders captain broke the ankle of Ulf Nilsson on Feb. 25, 1979.
“I would say a majority of it,” Stepan said when asked if the game’s flow had been affected by the teams having played Saturday night. “I think some games are like that too, regardless of what’s going on. Sometimes it just happens.”
The Rangers took control of the game following a scoreless first period. Stepan’s power-play bullet from the left faceoff circle on the Seventh Avenue side of the building opened the scoring 10:01 into the second.
“We’ve been very good in the third with the lead. We wanted to continue to do that and continue to play strong and finish strong,” Stepan said.
Following the Stepan goal, the Rangers dominated the puck as most of the match was played in the Winnipeg end. The Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg this summer, but the athletes employed by the Jets are still the same that finished with a 34-36-12 record last season.
Ondrej Pavelec, who finished with 24 saves, was the primary reason the game was as close as it was. He was brilliant keeping the deficit at 1-0 during a 5-on-3 Rangers early in the third period.
“The goalie made some really good saves at key times for them,” Tortorella said of Pavelec.
Gaborik’s slam dunk goal 8:31 into the third gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead ended any pretence of drama. Gaborik converted a spectacular cross-ice feed from Stepan that left Ondrej Pavelec sprawled on the ice, helpless. Pavelec made 21 saves.
Gaborik added an empty net goal with one second remaining.
“Those guys are playing with quite a bit of confidence,” Gaborik said of linemates Stepan and Artem Anisimov. The trio combined for all three goals, four assists, seven points and were plus-six. “Step is making plays and Artie, it’s new for him to play on the wing, but he adjusted pretty well. They’re both skilled guys and can work and win battles.”
Follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman for coverage of all the local teams.