SUNDAY NIGHT FINAL
New York Islanders 3
New York Rangers 4
Rangers win THE RIVALRY Series 4-2
N.Y.R. ~ NINETY-THREE POINTS
#1 - Eastern Conference
#1- Atlantic Division
#2 - Overall NHL
Fourteen Regular Season Games Remain
NEW YORK RANGERS: #19 Answers the Call..!
There's the regular season, and then there's The Rivalry. As a fan, I like for both to have their own identities. This was perhaps one of the best games I attended all season. The night was a back and forth affair and the crowd was electric the whole time. Falling behind to the Islanders on three separate occasions was never more entertaining; not in a long while at least. I won't lie. The fact that we needed two points in a slightly desperate kind of way, made the recurring Ranger comebacks just a little sweeter.
The last thing the Rangers needed was to start a seven game home stand with a fourth straight loss. That it could have come against the Islanders means little at this point. But make no mistake, any win against the Islanders is a great win. And I won't be spending any time down playing the fact we beat our weaker rivals from Nassau County. On Sunday, they were good enough, and skated fast enough, to win this game. At a minimum, John Tavares and the Isles gave the Blueshirts all they could handle.
Sunday, Henrik Lundqvist did some pretty amazing things between the pipes. The box score will say he gave up three goals on only nineteen Long Island shots on goal. But I was there and I'm telling you he saved the game for us once again. He also helped his own cause offensively when he assisted on his first Ranger goal of the season.
Something else that struck Ranger Fans as amazing was the team's proficiency on the Power Play. They scored on three of six opportunities.
On the flip-side, I'd like to know what Mats Zuccarello was doing on the penalty kill? And while I'm at it - I'm sorry, but Ruslan Fedotenko needs to throw his body around a little more. He's a smart and very solid hockey player and I know that's really not his game. But he had numerous opportunities to take out his man and separate him from the puck in the defensive corners, and didn't; and thus allowed the play to continue in the Rangers' zone.
But let's get to the meat and potatoes of this last game. In my last post, I finally called out Brad Richards by name. It's something I've been reluctant to do. But with teams getting better all around us, the Rangers needed more from the free agent center than we've been getting.
Among some things I said regarding Richards:
".....let's go ahead and ask now; - Is Richards finally going to come through and become the big name, high priced, free agent center, SLASH, scorer, the Rangers have spent an inordinate amount of years and money in search of? Because if he's not, it's time we stopped pampering him. If he's not going to be that player for us, when do we start calling him out for what he's been, which has been nothing more than a healthier version of an inconsequential Chris Drury.
Chris Drury's failure on Broadway is what helped precipitate the Rangers' youth movement in the first place. So in that respect, all hail Chris Drury. But praise futility at your own expense. Brad Richards came here under far different circumstances. He was expected to be a game changing player for us. We don't need any more savvy veterans who lead young kids by being a good guy. We need a player who's going to take his Captain's lead, and be a threat skating by his side."
Okay..., maybe that was a bit much. But I don't take it back. Brad Richards hasn't been nearly as inept as Drury was; healthy or not. But we had reasonable cause to expect a little more from the centerman. He's been skating a thin line between being a steady contributor and being deserving of getting dumped on. So call yesterday a preemptive strike on my part. Look what I did for you, Ranger Fans. I motivated Brad Richards. That's how I do. I'm a man of the people.
But in all seriousness, Brad Richards provided some very crystal clear answers to some long simmering questions everyone has had about him; even Torts. He was brought here in part, to improve and lead the power play. Against the Islanders, he scored twice with the man advantage, and has now finally broken the twenty goal mark. His first goal was virtually unassisted. Lundqvist and Mats Zuccarello touched the puck briefly behind Henri's net. Then from the back line, Richards skated up ice and took care of the rest. He tied the game at one with a booming shot from the high slot. When the Islanders jumped back out to a 2-1 lead in the second period, Richards tied the game again in the second period with assists from Gaborik, and Zuccarello's second. Brad Richards would go on to assist Marian Gaborik's game winning OT goal; which incidentally was the Rangers' third power play goal of the evening.
On a night the Captain was sidelined with a screaming foot and the Rangers in need of a big win, Brad Richards stepped into the lead role, led the power play, and scored big goals when the Rangers needed someone to play big. He skated, passed, shot, and scored like a star last night. When trying to prove a point, hyperbole can only get one (me) so far. Sunday night, Brad Richards was money. Far from being Chris Drury, Richards was the player we've all been kind of waiting for, and really wanted to see.
Most importantly, the Rangers got two more points. The Penguins won Sunday as well. The Blueshirts have the Carolina Hurricanes next. If we can secure two points against them, we'll be in good shape heading into Thursday's game against Pittsburgh regardless what the Penguins do. Two more points against the Canes will at least give us a little breathing room heading into that game, and coming out of it as well. We play the Penguins two more times. We need to win one of those. More and more, it's looking like the Atlantic Division will be decided on April 5th, when we travel to Pittsburgh in the second to last game of the season. And we all understand what losing the division title will do to our Eastern Conference standing and home ice advantage.
That said, we'll be needing more money shots from Brad Richards. Here's a look at Sunday's from my view in Section 417. I sensed it coming and had my phone at the ready.
Let' Go Rangers!