NEW YORK RANGERS: Seize The Moment!!
The Devils; Check. The Islanders; Check. Both locals have been dispatched. Summon the team from down I-95. Bring on the Flyers! The Battle for First Place is on!
I'm happy to say Brandon Dubinsky scored his second goal of the season Thursday night against the Islanders. And you know things are going well when goalie Marty Biron picks up an assist on the play. Martin Biron by the way, faced twenty-six shots and turned back twenty-four to secure the Rangers third straight victory. It was Biron's seventh win of the season against just one loss. That's also two wins for him in the Rangers' last three games. When do we get to call him the best back-up goalie in hockey if people haven't started already?
Michael Del Zotto scored what proved to be the game winning goal but not before Marian Gaborik notched another. The resurgent forward is now in a tie for the league lead in goals after scoring his twentieth of the season half way through the second period of Thursday night's 4-2 win over Long Island.
Besides winning, something else the Rangers have been doing consistently this season is fighting. Thursday was no different. Stu Bickel was just the latest Blueshirt Gone Pugilist in a Ranger World Gone Rough-House. What did Joe Thornton of San Jose say about us? We were the softest team he ever...blah blah blah? If this is soft, I don't want to be a Bully.
That's right, I went there! It's time. Bring em on. Bring on the Broad Street Bullies. The New York Softies need this challenge. One way or another they'll get a better feel for what it takes to take an even bigger step forward in their development. And more immediately, they'll know better if they can indeed be the Broadway Bashers they've been striving to be. All their efforts this season have led them to this very game. And it couldn't have come at a better time.
Thursday night's victory over the Islanders gives the Rangers forty-four points and places them a mere two points now behind the Atlantic Division leading Philadelphia Flyers who were idle. A win Friday night against their Brotherly Rivals would not only give the Rangers a share of first place, - this young band of Rangers would also receive one of the loudest ovations they'll ever experience short of winning a Stanley Cup. Defeating their division foe now would make Madison Square Garden roar like it did when the greatest heavyweight fighters in the world once fought there. The confluence of first place, the Flyers, and Friday night speaks to me. It says there is hope for a real special night.
Everyone knows what's transpiring off-Broadway these days. But it has remained a little under-spoken. And why not - It's still December. Staying tough through injuries has not gone unnoticed however. And so I think Ranger Fans are finally ready to shake the building like it hasn't been for a very long time. Even before this game starts, no one will get to hear the great John Amirante sing the National Anthem because the joint will simply be way too loud. We'll see his lips move and him waving his hand, but all you'll hear is Let's Go Rangers raining down from the crowd! I'll be there. I'll be one of them.
Make no mistake, this is a big moment in the Blueshirts' season. The game itself isn't necessarily detrimental in the grand scheme of the season yet. Instead this is a timely challenge of their will and resolve. The Rangers have methodically built up to this game with the steady momentum of a glacier. They now arrive at Friday night's showdown having gotten here first and foremost with the League's second stingiest defense next to Boston's. More importantly, they are finding net and getting contributions across the board. And call em Smurfs for the sake of being facetious, but the truth is they're fighting all comers...and winning. Now the next step for the young Rangers is learning how to seize the moment.
That said, after some marvelous goal tending by Biron, Henrik Lundqvist should be rested and well prepared for another encounter against the Flyers. In the last Battle of I-95, the King shut-out Philly 2-0 at MSG. This game is also a great set up for when these two teams meet again in Philadelphia for the 2012 Winter Classic.
Come Philly; come to 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue where some of the greatest fights ever have taken place. We accept the challenge. Come ready. Like many fights in this arena, this one can become an instant classic too.
Battle for the Atlantic Division
21-8-4; 46 Points - 1st Place
NEW YORK RANGERS
20-8-4; 44 Points - 2nd Place
7th Avenue at 33rd Street