It was high praise for a team that had just completed the highly improbable.
“The team has balls. It has had balls all year long, right from camp,” John Tortorella said with a mixture of pride and admiration after the Rangers’ 5-3 comeback win over the Bruins Monday night at the Garden. “I’m not a big love fest guy but I just I like how we stuck to it. We showed balls. It was really good stuff.”
What makes the win as impressive was that the Rangers trailed Eastern Conference Cup contender Boston 3-0 after an initial 30 minutes that caused the collective mood of the 18,200 to transform from excitement to anger. Daniel Paille (15:16) and Nathan Horton (16:53) scored goals in a 1:37 span of the first and Chris Kelly increased the Bruins’ lead to 3-0 at 10:32 of the second period.
That the deficit was not larger — the Bruins were credited with 30 shots on goal. They missed on 12 attempts and had another 18 blocked—was due to Henrik Lundqvist. He finished with 27 saves in his mano-a-mano against fellow Hart and Vezina candidate, Tim Thomas. Thomas stopped 21-of-25 shots.
Lundqvist kept his team in the game. Then it was one of the NHL’s youngest teams being led by one of its elder statesmen to start the comeback. Vinny Prospal banged in goals with 8:25 and 1:34 remaining in the second to cut the lead to 3-2.
“He has the emotion of a young kid,” Tortorella said with a slight smile. “Good for him.”
The markers re-energized the building and when Brandon Dubinsky equalized with 3:38 left in the game caused the Old House on 33rd Street to become unglued. When Michael Sauer scored his second game-winner of the year, 51 seconds later, the Garden was no longer chaotic. Rather it was bedlam. Mayhem. Pandemonium.
“It gives you goose bumps,” Dubinsky said. “It is a feeling that you can’t describe.”
Derek Stepan added an empty netter with 51 seconds to seal the comeback. Tellingly, there was a love-in at the Rangers bench; a visual representation of how unified this team is.
“It’s a great feeling,” Tortorella philosophized. “It makes it worthwhile. It’s not one guy. This is not a one guy team. It’s a collective group.”
The Rangers improved to 43-32-5 on the season. The 43 wins are tied for seventh most in franchise history. The Rangers are now seventh in the East with the win. They are tied with free-falling Montreal with 91 points. However the Rangers have four more losses than the Canadiens. The Rangers have two games left in their 2010-11 regular season (Thursday at home against Atlanta and a Saturday afternoon season finale matinee against the Devils). Montreal hosts Chicago tonight before finishing the season on the road in Ottawa (Thursday) and Toronto (Saturday).
More importantly, they opened a four point gap on Carolina, who has a game in hand on the Rangers. Carolina sandwiches home games against Detroit on Wednesday and Tampa Bay Saturday night with a road trip to Atlanta Friday. Should the Red Wings beat Carolina, it is entirely possible that the Rangers could enter Thursday night’s match with the Thrashers needing just one point to clinch a playoff berth for the fifth time in the six years since the lockout.
“We can only control what we can. That’s our play, that’s our games. It’s a nice situation we’re in where we don’t necessarily need help from other people. In that regards, we have to take care of business. We have two big games left. Four points up for grabs and we got to make sure we get them,” Sauer said. “We’re not going to say no to (help). We don’t need (Carolina) to win every game on the way out but right now I think we’re sixth but if we win our next two games, we’re in. That’s our mentality and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go after it.”