It was the best all-around game the Rangers had played in weeks.
For four periods, the Rangers shot the puck. They forechecked. They drove to the net. They hit. They were responsible in their own end. On the few occasions they needed it, their goaltender made saves.
It was a blueprint for how to play winning hockey.
All they got out of it was one point. Monday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to Atlanta was the Rangers’ 11th in their last 15 games. In this stretch, they are averaging 2.29 goals scored per game, while allowing 3.42.
The Rangers will play a home-and-home with the suburban Islanders on Wednesday and Thursday, before traveling to Philadelphia on Saturday and Carolina next Monday.
“We did a lot of good things,” said Henrik Lundqvist, reiterating a season long theme.
Lundqvist was not particularly busy, having stopped 25 shots in 65 minutes. His counterpart, Johan Hedberg, was under siege, facing 48 shots. Hedberg improved to 4-1 with a 1.88 GAA and a .949 save percentage on the road.
“One of the things with Hedberg is (that) it’s not just about making the saves,” understated Thrashers (17-11-3) coach John Anderson. “When the puck goes in, he goes out and gets it.”
He did just that in the shootout, stuffing the league’s leading goal scorer, Marian Gaborik, on the first attempt. Ales Kotalik lost the puck on the second. The Rangers (14-15-3) wouldn’t get another, because Ilya Kovalchuk and Vyacheslav Kozlov both beat Lundqvist with wrist shots. The Rangers are now 2-1 in shootouts this season.
But for the first time in a long time, the Rangers seemed to feel good about themselves. Dominating an opponent will do that.
“We really stressed crashing the nets, getting pucks at the net and getting rebounds,” said Ryan Callahan, whose seventh goal of the season at the 17:10 mark of the second period tied the game at one.
Kozlov had opened the scoring with a laser with 3:19 left in the first. Colby Armstrong put Atlanta up, 2-1, 3:06 into the third with a shorthanded goal. The lead lasted all of 59 seconds because Gaborik scored his league-leading 23rd with a power play bullet from the left faceoff circle.
“We put up forty-something shots tonight. That was the biggest thing: get shots, get opportunities. I thought we did that. If we put up forty-something shots a night, there’s not too many times we’re just going to score two goals, especially with the guys we have in this room,” said Callahan.
The offense received a jump due to the return of Brandon Dubinsky, whomissed 13 games with a broken right hand after it was struck by a Jay Bouwmeester slap shot Nov. 7. The Rangers’ record without their top-line center was 4-8-1. In his first game back, Dubinsky received 24:06 of ice time. He did not record a point, but was a forechecking force.
“I felt good. It is just a matter of playing with the hand the way it was and I was able to do that. I wasn’t bothered by it too much.”
“He gave us some juice, didn’t he? He gave us some juice,” added Tortorella. “It’s good to have him back in the lineup. He was an important guy for us tonight.”
Tortorella praised the effort—despite their personnel flaws, the Rangers have worked hard throughout the season—but lamented the lack of scoring.
“They played well. Other than six or seven minutes at the beginning of that second period, I thought we played a good hockey game. We just have to keep trying to build on it. We have to get over the hump of
that second goal. We had our chances to score our third one, but we didn’t get it done.”
Lundqvist has played in 13 of the Rangers’ last 14 games, with his
only off day was the 8-3 loss in Pittsburgh on November 28. If the
Rangers have any hopes of making a playoff push , they will need
Lundqvist relatively fresh for a majority of final 50 games of the
season. Factor in Lundqvist’s Olympic duties for Sweden, and it means
that AHL call-up Chad Johnson should play in one of the upcoming
Tonight, Andy Bathgate, Eddie Giacomin, Rod Gilbert, Harry Howell,
Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter will take
part in a dinner meet-and-greet at the Garden.
New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, GM Omar Minaya, RF Jeff Francoeur and
pitchers Bobby Parnell and Jonathon Niese were at the game. A Mets PR
spokesperson declined to let the quintet take questions.