The tension in the Rangers’ room was gone, momentarily, replaced by smiles and a collective sigh of relief.
This is what it feels like after earning two points.
What was also in the room, and was put forth by the coaches and players, was a simple challenge:
Can they do it again?
One night after hitting rock bottom, the Rangers rebounded with a respectable effort in their 5-2 win over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum Thursday night. Their next game is Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia against the similarly struggling Flyers.
John Tortorella’s assessment of the Rangers’ performance was straightforward. “I think we played pretty good in spurts,” Tortorella said. “You don’t have to play a perfect game if you score a few goals.”
While it was not a 180 degree change from Wednesday night’s debacle at The Garden—the Rangers still have to tighten up in their own zone and need to focus on playing a simple offensive game —there was a concerted group effort to be better at the Coliseum last night. And they were, led by their most important players.
Despite being outshot 14-4 in the first period, the Rangers had a 2-0 lead because of crease-crashing goals from Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury. Oh, and Lundqvist was the best player on the ice. The Rangers’ netminder finished with 35 saves.
“We didn’t talk about the shots. We wanted to try to play more of a north-south game,” Tortorella. “I thought the back-to-back penalties…they got a lot of shots. They come. They come hard. They’re a hard working hockey team. We were just trying to put the puck up the neutral zone and make them play defense.
“I thought Hank was very important for us. He made some really good saves. Some of the crap that’s going on around this team right now, (if) you’re down 1-0 and it’s back-to-back games with the Islanders, you’re not sure how the guys would react. Hank gave us a chance and then we found our way.”
Callahan’s second goal of the game came 27 seconds into the second, and like his first, it was a crease-crashing goal.
“It feels better to get the win. Get some goals, especially the way we did it—crashing the net—I think that’s one of the things that we need to do,” Callahan said. He also earned two assists to complete a career-high four point night. “We have to build on it. It’s one win. It’s a good win. It’s a character win after the game we had (Wednesday). But we have to start getting some wins back-to-back. We’re going to build on this tonight and go into the next game ready to work and do the same thing. It’s not going to get any easier.
Andrew McDonald cut the Rangers’ lead to 3-1 with his first NHL goal with 10:29 left in the second. McDonald’s marker came moments after Nate Thompson had a wide open net and missed by two feet.
Marian Gaborik’s power play slap shot 3:37 into the third pushed the advantage to 4-1. Gaborik had a three point night and now leads the league in both goals (24) and points (45). Rookie center Artem Anisimov stuffed a rebound from under the hashmarks 3:13 later to put the Rangers up by five. Islanders’ defenseman Frans Nielsen’s fifth of the season completed the scoring.
With 48 games remaining in their season, the Rangers are only two points out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. But with 14 of the 15 teams in the Conference bunched together—Carolina, with 22 points, is the only team in the East that does not have an opportunity to qualify for the playoffs—Tortorella was unwavering in belief what has to happen for the Rangers to play spring hockey for the fifth year in a row.
“I think the key thing is we have to start becoming a team. That’s the most important thing,” Tortorella said.
Tortorella announced at the Rangers’ optional skate that forwards Ales Kotalik and Aaron Voros, along with defenseman Wade Redden were scratched for the game. “Guys that are out, it has to do with their play,” said Tortorella. Kotalik was diplomatic, saying “All you can do is go out there and work hard,” but Redden was clearly upset. “I’m not too pleased about it. The fact that I’m sitting out, I’m not too happy about it,” said Redden, who also used the phrases “singled out,” “I’m the example here” and “If they want me out there” when he met with the Rangers beat reporters in the visiting locker room. “He wants to shakes things up. I can deal with that. Which way do you go? There’s lots of different ways to handle it and I have to do what’s best for me.”
TheHockeyNews.com ranked John Tavares as the seventh best junior hockey player of all-time. Tavares, who was a member of Canada’s gold medal winning teams at the previous two World Junior Hockey Championships, noted that he has played with some of the members of this year’s team. The tournament runs from December 26 to January 5 in Regina and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
“The guys that are returning, and Calvin de Haan is one of our prospects (and I) played half a season with him in Oshawa last year,” said Tavares. “It has to be an exciting time for them and I wish them all the best.”
The Islanders and Kings are routinely pointed to as organizations who are rebuilding the proverbial right way. Matt Moulson has an interesting perspective, as he played for the Kings for two years before signing with the Islanders last summer.
“There’s a bit of similarity there. (Trying) to grow through the draft with young players,” said Moulson after being asked how the two organizations are alike. “I think (both organizations have) a lot of young players playing, playing well and having key roles in future development in both systems.”
Drury’s goal was his third of the season and his first since October 19.
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