Rangers 4, Coyotes 3 (SO)
It was the perfect formula for a letdown.
The Rangers had just come off impressive wins over Stanley Cup favorites and HBO subjects Washington and Pittsburgh. A strange Western Conference opponent was in the house for a match lacking appeal. And for the first 39:54 spanning the first two periods, the script played to form as the Rangers appeared destined to enter the third trailing by two goals.
Enter Dan Girardi, Brandon Prust and Jason LaBarbera.
Girardi grabbed a loose puck in the defensive zone and cleared the zone. It rolled all the way down to LaBarbera. A former Ranger, LaBarbera attempted to play the puck behind the net but got caught outside the trapezoidal area and backed off.
That bit of indecision allowed Prust to grab the puck and stickhandle past the goaltender and defenseman Derek Morris before backhanding the puck into the net with 5.1 seconds left in the second period.
Prust’s NHL-high third shorthanded goal sparked the Rangers to a 4-3 shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes Thursday night at the Garden. Erik Christensen scored the lone goal in the penalty shot phase of the game. Girardi and Derek Stepan scored goals for the Rangers. Stepan’s goal was his eighth of the season and first at MSG. It tied the game at 3-3 with 5:43 remaining in the third. Martin Biron stopped 30-of-33 shots in his first game in goal since December 2 on Long Island. Taylor Pyatt, Adrian Aucoin and Martin Hanzel scored goals for Phoenix. LaBarbera’s gaffe overshadowed a strong 33 save-on-36 shots performance.
“I knew he was in-between decisions and I kind of had a feeling he wasn’t going to get the puck. He was slowing down, stopped in the triangle, and couldn’t touch it” Prust explained. “I made up my mind I was going to the net.”
Prust’s play was not aesthetically pleasing. It will never be compared to the best of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Guy LaFleur, Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby. But it was a portrait of what the Rangers are: A grind-it-out team that is creating opportunities to win—and making the most of them.
“He is part of our corps. He is not home grown; from our minor league (system) and a draft pick, but he has joined in with us. He does all of the things you ask of him: On the wall, killing penalties, he’ll fight anybody. He is a big part of who we are,” John Tortorella said. “You look at a Ryan Callahan, you look at a Prust, that is what we are trying to be as a Ranger team. Little by little, everybody is joining and we’re creating an identity.”
The hard work ethos has shown itself in the Rangers hitting and shot-blocking proficiency. The Rangers entered the game ranked first in the NHL with 967 hits and their 542 blocked shots trailed only Philadelphia. They threw 21 hits and blocked 17 shots last night.
The players’ willingness to shot block and play a grind-it-out game has the Rangers third in the Atlantic and fifth in the East with a 20-13-1 mark. But is their style of game conducive to injuries?
Brandon Dubinsky missed five weeks last season with a broken hand after blocking a shot against the Flames. Drury played his first game of the season Wednesday night in Pittsburgh after recovering from a broken left index finger, which was suffered blocking a shot during training camp. Drury’s return dovetailed with loss of Callahan, who broke his left hand blocking a shot in the 4-1 win in Pittsburgh. The coach announced before the game that the left wing won’t need surgery but estimated he will miss six-to-eight weeks before praising his team's willingness to sacrifice for each other.
“I think they’re doing things right. They’re doing things that some players don’t like doing: and that’s blocking shots. We always call it being big, not small. I see a lot of players in this league get small; they’re blocking it but really don’t want to block it. Our guys want to block the shots. This is the risk-reward you get out of it,” Tortorella said. “We play a hard game.”
A truism that was re-established by one buzzer-beating play.
What went right ...
1 Welcome back, Dru — Captain Chris Drury made his home debut Thursday night and set up Derek Stepan’s game-tying goal with 5:47 left in regulation.
2 Battle of backup keepers — The first skater in the shootout, Erik Christensen, beat Jason LaBarbera, while Martin Biron stopped all three shots for the Rangers.
3 Shorthanded — Trailing 3-1, Dan Girardi corralled a loose puck in the defensive zone and fired to the backboards late in the second. LaBarbera attempted to play the puck, then stopped. Brandon Prust swooped in and backhanded it into the cage with five seconds left.
Rangers rally for shootout win
Rangers 4, Coyotes 3 (SO)