Today was a little less tense than previous games. No longer were playoff hopes on the line. Still, it was an important game. Playoff seeding was on the line, and a loss would have locked the Rangers in as the eight seed. Johan Hedberg was in goal for the Devils, instead of the usual appearance from Martin Brodeur, but it was still a similar result to the previous matchup. The Rangers scored early, put consistent pressure on the Devils in the offensive zone, and limit their own mistakes. Henrik Lundqvist got his second shutout, but for most of the game was along for the ride. The game was never really in doubt. A good win, both for playoff seeding and also to end the season on a high note. Let's look at some post-game thoughts.
Glen Sather and John Tortorella: Let us give credit to those who deserve it. Jeff Gorton, Jim Schoenfeld, and the rest of the coaching and scouting staff deserve their share of applause as well, but these two clearly are the most influential figures. They received (somewhat deserving) criticism when the team struggled, but they made a slew of bold moves to turn things around. Though it was too late to earn home-ice advantage, these two headed a group that managed to push every right button. And as a result the Rangers are going into the playoffs with more momentum than just about any other team in the Eastern Conference.
Derek Stepan: Henrik will always be the team's MVP, but ignoring him, it's hard to argue that Derek Stepan hasn't been the Rangers' best skater this season. He capped off what has been far and away the best season of his career with a goal and an assist today. Callahan did a lot of the work on his goal, but Stepan has developed an instinct to head towards the net and find the openings. Callahan found him, and he put a great shot past Hedberg to put the Rangers up early. His best play was on Callahan's goal, though. Shorthanded, he knocked down a Zidlicky pass attempt in the neutral zone, then dug his skates into the ice hard to get to the puck before forcing it to Callahan, who went on the break and scored. He finishes the season with 18 goals, a career high, and 44 points; more than Anze Kopitar, Daniel Sedin, and Joe Thornton, and as of now only one behind Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin. Even with Brad Richards turning on the jets, Stepan will enter the playoffs as the team's most important center.
Rick Nash: Though he is entitled with the way he has consistently produced, Nash wasn't playing his best games the last 3 or 4 games. Today he himself back back on the road, scoring two goal-scorer's goals on wrist shots from the slot. He finishes the season with
20 21 goals and 42 points in 44 games. He's been everything the Rangers were hoping for when they acquired him, and now he'll look to get involved in playoff hockey for only the second time in his NHL career. If the Rangers are going to make a run, they're going to need him to be the elite offensive player that he is.
Steve Eminger and John Moore: One of the glaring weaknesses of last year's team during the playoffs was a lack of a capable third pairing. One of the more remembered events of last year was Stu Bickel sticking to the bench despite a triple overtime game in Washington. Things started the same this season, with a revolving door of Gilroy, Hamrlik, Bickel, and so on getting opportunities. Eminger is finally healthy, whereas last season at this time he was not. And John Moore has been a breath of fresh air. While the top guys are still going to be whom Tortorella relies on most, I do not think he should or will feel uncomfortable going with a third pairing in the playoffs, and perhaps it will be a difference for this year's team. If Marc Staal can come back then Tortorella has a decision to make on who sits between Stralman and Eminger.
Mats Zuccarello: The signing of Zuccarello midseason was met with a lot of cynicism from the most pessimistic fans and skepticism from the most optimistic. He has clearly surpassed virtually everyone's expectations, and that probably includes Sather and Tortorella. He finally battles for pucks in the neutral zone and in corners. Today he had what I believe was his best shift as a Ranger. He carried the puck end-to-end and pentrated the Devils' blue line. He kept possession and made a pass down low to Richards, who the found Zuccarello in the corner. With the Devils' committing to Zucc, Nash was left wide open the slot, and he had had nothing to do but slot it into the open net. Unless he has a complete meltdown in the playoffs, I imagine that Sather will make it his mission to give The Hobbit an extension. And one he fully deserves.
Now the Rangers must play the waiting game. Ottawa needs at least three points in its remaining two games or else the Rangers get the sixth seed. In which case, we meet up with the Capitals yet again. If Ottawa is successful, however, it will be down to either Boston or Montreal.
At this point, the struggles in the first half of the season are irrelevant, outside of seeding. Everyone starts at zero again. We're going to have the best goaltender no matter what team we're up against, and this team picked the right time to get into a groove. We have four complete lines, three complete defensive pairings. If Staal and Clowe and perhaps even Dorsett can get healthy then the Rangers have a legitimate chance to do some damage in the playoffs.
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Not sure anyone mentioned this, but Stepan finished +25, good for 5th in the league. The only guys ahead of him are on Pitt and Chicago, with much better records than the Rangers. That's a pretty amazing stat when you consider how mediocre the rangers were most of the season and how he often played against good lines.
Zuccs been a revelation. He's quicker, a little meaner. He's got that Pierre McGuire Hockey IQ, Enzo. I can't believe how great he's been.
I was never a big fan of Zucc, although I saw he had great vision, he did not put it all together. Whatever he has done, he has put it all together. He really has a fire inside of him. I was at the Ranger / Panther game the other day, and he was the only Ranger who came to play. It seemed like he was getting triple shifted. Pucks are starting to go his way and in the net also. He is really battling along the boards and in the corners. The way he is playing, his lack of size makes no difference. MUST sign. I agree with everything else. If we can get secondary scoring, we can win it, especially with Hank. We must show up though.
Besides being an absolute monster, I feel like Nash has elevated so many players on this team. Callahan, Hagelin, and Stepan are the three who come to mind. How often did you see those guys power their way to the net last season? How often did you see them pivoting around, doing circles with the puck in the offensive zone? I'm not sitting watching their practices, but I feel like he's shown a lot of players the tricks to his trade. Mind you, not everyone can do it like he can, but I think Rangers hockey (when they've played well) has been a lot more fun to watch then the exclusively bump and grind style of last season. If they can do it on a consistent level in the postseason, this could be fun.
Missed this game, darn. Love seeing the boys dump the Devils. Love the epic Staal/Ovi battles. Hope he makes it back for the series.
In NHL network intermission of the Toronto Montreal game They were asking Glen Healy about seeding and who will play who and what advantages. " The one team I do not face if I'm an Eastern Conference team is the NY Rangers" Glen Healy
I wanted to play the pens - I think we would have beaten them but I honestly think we can beat anyone right now regardless of who we play. Definitely would help to get Stall back.
if Staal Clowe Dorsett and Boyl are healthy then things could get very interesting. The team would be very very deep which is exactly what you need to make a long playoff run.
Isn't the only way we play Washington is if Ottawa doesn't get 3 points in its last 2 games? Do we have the tiebreaker over them?
Didn't get a chance to watch the game, but just watched highlights and that Zucc assist on Nash's second goal was sweet.
Actually, Adam, it looks like Nash finishes the regular season with 21 goals (not 20 as stated).
Pretty cool that Stepan ended up being the leading point man though.
We hear that the Rangers should b glad about not having to play the Pens in the 1st round but to me I'd rather play them right away and try to knock them off....I think Pitt. will probably get better as time goes on if they keep advancing.....Gonna have to go thru them at sometime, lets see what happens....LETS GO RANGERS
Richards looks like a different player than he did less than a month ago. Good time for it! Thought it was hysterical that Milbury and Jones talked at length in the 2nd intermission about Nash and his shortcomings and then agreed that they would take Kovalchuck over him in the playoffs, only to see Nash score early in the 3rd as Kovalchuck watched him from 3 feet away. Good analysis morons. Kudos to Pierre for disagreeing and talking about his dominance in the Worlds. Loved seeing McDonagh throw down a Devil, even though it cost them a penalty! This team is as dangerous as any going into the playoffs!!
@JamesU That's +0,52 per game (+25 in 48 games). Nash is +16 in 44 (+0,36 per game). Zucc is +10 in 15 games (+0,66 per game). Zucc's been on the 3rd line, but also alot on the 2nd and sometimes 1st.
@_Jack Zucc the world.
@Lordstanleybroadway I just hope Staal gets back. His battles with OV are awesome to watch.
@HJB91 Glad we're not playing the habs. They play some boring hockey. Effective, but boring. Reminds me of the Devils in the early-2000's.
@HJB91 i feel the same way, i would be surprised if washington or boston beat us i also think we can take montreal which would require a some more effort but it might be the best thing
@JoeNYR Dancing Larry started dancing during the Messier era we used to have seasons in 406 and he would sit in the back of section 405
i think that's right ... i don't know how the tiebreaker works anymore ... my understanding is we keep 6th if they only get two points out of their 2 remaining games; they play Boston tomorrow ... 1-0 Philly after 1
yeah, he carried it in and found some ice and made the play happen, it was awesome
@AG_Blue pro-rated for 82 games Step 30G 73PTs. not bad, kid.
interesting point ... however, maybe their first round opponent knocks them out like last year
@gravey94 LMFAO - you can keep Kovalchuk Jersey, Nashty's better
@gravey94 That body slam by McD was my favorite part of the game. I was hilarious and badass...
You could play Clowe-Brassard-Kreider(or Boyle) on the third and I would be happy with our top 3 lines.
@cb1 we can neutralize him with Girardi and Mac. Need to stay out of box talented PP unit we should beat them in 5-6 games.
@ivanricov missed it. D'oh!
@greggray24 @GiveGartneraCup @AG_Blue @Dudeinski Also, I hope habs/toronto happens. Habs play some boring hockey, but I'd pay good money to experience the insanity that is the bell center against toronto in the playoffs. Plus I think Toronto might just pull it off. I have no reason to think that, I just do.
@GiveGartneraCup @AG_Blue @Dudeinski Would love to see Isles Pens! Need Ottawa to loose to Boston tomorrow. Crazy stuff!
@GiveGartneraCup dude... i was thinking JUST that like3 hours ago.