Rangers 5 - Avalanche 1: Points Per Game
The Rangers won their fourth consecutive game Tuesday night for the first time this season, 5-1, against a very good Colorado Avalanche squad. The captain, Ryan Callahan, led the way with two goals and an assist, while Henrik Lundqvist turned aside 27 shots. The Rangers conclude their three-game homestand Thursday night against the Oilers.
RANGERS THREE STARS OF THE GAME
MC: Ryan Callahan came to play last night. That's not to say he doesn't bring it every night, but last night he was the most noticable player on the ice from start to finish. He opened the scoring in the first period with two goals, including a highlight-reel quality marker to give the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead. On his second, he found space in the slot and blasted a wrist-shot to give the Rangers the 2-0 lead. He capped off his night with an assist on Brad Richards' goal that made it 5-1 late in the third period. While the offense is great, Callahan didn't sacrifice the other stuff he does night after night. On top of the three points, Callahan fired six shots — plus two more attempts — to go along with seven hits and a blocked shot. He finished a plus-3 in 17:05 of ice time.
My second star goes to the man in net, Henrik Lundqvist. Sure, the game was in the Rangers' favor throughout most of the night, but he still made some very impressive saves that brought the Garden crowd to its feet. Lundqvist faced just four shots in the first period, but 24 over the final two periods. The Avalanche pressured all night, but the King stood tall. Any time a goaltender can hold a team like the Avalanche, which has such speed and skill, to just one goal, he's doing something very right. Lundqvist is just in the zone right now, and it seems like it doesn't matter the opponent, No. 30 will give his A-game.
My third star goes to Anton Stralman, who FINALLY picked up his first goal of the season. I don't say FINALLY because of the time, but because he's played very well and the puck just has not gone in for him. Since the Stadium Series games, Stralman has been one of the most reliable defenseman the Rangers have, and for him to be rewarded with a goal is great. Stralman had four shots and another two attempts to go along with a blocked shot, a takeaway, and plus-3 rating in 20:48 of ice time.
JC: No doubt that Captain Cally was the Rangers First Star Tuesday night. He scored twice, and likely could have had three or four goals as he was robbed twice by Semyon Varlamov in the third period on glorious scoring chances. Alain Vigneault said after the game that Callahan "brings it" every night and on Tuesday the only difference is that the puck went in for him, and for the most part I agree with the coach, but I also think the captain had a little something extra going for him against the Avs. He played with an extra jump, no doubt; though he also benefitted from two outstanding plays made by Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards to set up each of his goals, respectively. I also loved his physical game, a game-high seven hits. Can't overlook his season-high three points either. Great to see, and maybe a sign of things to come since Cally is such a streaky scorer.
I am going with Anton Stralman as my No. 2 Star because right from his first shift he was really engaged at both ends of the ice. Solid in his own end, and very active in the offensive end, Stralman looked to be a difference maker front and center on Tuesday, as opposed to the quiet, steady defenseman who stays back and makes the smart play while you hardly notice him out there. The Stral Man, as his buddies refer to him, scored his first goal in 60 games, dating to April of last season, and had several other good chances to score, finishing with four shots. And though Vigneault likes to downplay Plus/Minus stats, Stralman was a +3 Tuesday and is a whopping +11 during the Rangers four-game winning streak.
I struggle with the Third Star because Henrik Lundqvist, Brad Richards, and Carl Hagelin are all deserving, but I am going with Mats Zuccarello, who had a pair of primary assists, five shots on goal, and was a dervish out on the ice yet again Tuesday evening. Zucc made gorgeous plays to set up both Stralman and Derick Brassard for goals, and came close himself to scoring a couple of times as he continues to be a consistent threat offensively night in and night out. Zucc and Richards both became the first Rangers to surpass 40 points on the season on Tuesday, with both now tied for the team lead with 41 points.
MC: I have to go with the new dad, Marc Staal, here. He played last night's game on less than two hours of sleep and you really couldn't tell by his performance. He was left off the scoresheet but was a plus-3 in more than 21 minutes of ice time. Staal has been playing so well since his return to the lineup, and even more so over the last two weeks or so. He's contributing more offensively and is back to the shutdown defender he was prior to his most latest injury in December. Congratulations, Marc, on becoming a dad!
JC: Again, several candidates for the Rangers Unsung Hero, not the least of which was Dominic Moore who I thought had another really effective game in just under 13 minutes of ice time, but I am with you, Marc Staal for sure is the Unsung Hero. Went to the hospital with wife Lindsay at 6:00 PM Monday and was up all night and morning for the birth of their first child before grabbing 1.5 hours of sleep in the late morning/early afternoon Tuesday. Then he shows up to The Garden and plays a rock solid game at both ends, standing out in particular by pairing with Ryan McDonagh for the entire 5-on-3 penalty kill late in the second period of what was then still a 3-1 game. It will be a day and night Marc Staal will always remember. Congrats Dad! Now get some sleep, because when that baby comes home, sleep will be in short order in the Staal household!
FOUR IN A ROW
MC: The Rangers are cooking right now. Plain and simple. They've won four in a row for the first time all season and are doing it by either starting well or finishing strong. For stretches earlier in the season, the Rangers weren't playing with the lead; lately, that's all they've been doing. During this stretch, the Rangers have led or been tied every minute since they tied the game against the Devils in the first Stadium Series game. The Rangers aren't digging themselves holes they cannot get out of. They're gelling right now and its a lot of fun to watch. They're getting contributions throughout the lineup, the defense is back to what it has been over the last handful of seasons and the goaltending has returned to elite form. Right now, the Rangers can play with anyone, and I think they know it.
JC: I was curious to see how the Rangers would play coming off a three-day break--figuring either they would be refreshed and come out flying or they'd be a bit out of sync and have to find their footing. Clearly it was the former because the Rangers outshot a very good Colorado team 20-4 in the first period, and proceeded to play a very solid and complete 60 minutes in their 5-1 victory. The Rangers have been saying that this week is extremely important for them, that they want to finish the pre-Olympic schedule on a high note, in the same fashion they have played over the past five or six weeks while putting together a 15-5-1 record since December 22. They took care of the first game of their three-in-four-nights week in fine fashion. Let's see if they can keep the pedal down against Edmonton on Thursday and in Pittsburgh on Friday. My guess is, yes, they will.