The Rangers pulled even with Philadelphia on points on Saturday night by beating the Florida Panthers 4-1. The Blueshirts battled back from a 1-0 deficit in their first third-period comeback of the season and are right in the thick of the LEastern Conference playoff race.
The Rangers improved to 5-0-1 over the last six games. Before you get too excited, keep in mind that the only half-decent team they faced was New Jersey in this run and the Devils are slumping (3-3-3 in their last nine).
The Ranger run has led to the new poll on the right; make sure you vote. My pick was "Not really" - not because I had faith that the Rangers would show their skill but because I had faith that they would end up breaking our hearts yet again and what better way than this? Either they will roll all the way into the playoffs before failing in the first round or fall just short thanks to the season-ending home-and-home with the Flyers. No matter what, Heartbreak Hotel for the True Blue.
There was nothing heartbreaking about this evening's action so I'll just jump into the randomness:
*The People's Champ Aaron Voros got into it with Nick Tarnasky in the first period. Tarnasky landed several big bombs in the brawl before the Panther literally pulled Voros' leg out from under him. Already down on the ice, the linesmen then jumped on the two fighters, sending Voros backwards with his leg pinned under him. Luckily he just tweaked his knee and was able to get back into the game, especially because he went on to set up Drury's goal.
*That goal pretty much should have been happening all season long. Good positioning allowed Voros to keep the puck in the Florida zone, then he saw a lane so he shot it. Dru went to the net and banged the rebound home. There was nothing cute about the play, nothing fancy ... just smart, simple hockey.
*For all of the early season talk about MDZ and Matt Gilroy being Leetch-like, Marc Staal has been scoring like the legendary blueliner of late. Yesterday he scored on a snap shot off the wing and tonight he rushed through the neutral zone and over the blueline before pulling up to use the defender as a screen to score from above the circle. Staalsie has been seriously good of late and it isn't so surprising that his teammates are following suit and stepping up their game.
*The game wrap on NHL.com has quotes from several players that Staal's goal was the turning point in the game but the Rangers did have chances throughout the second period, they just couldn't convert on them. Arty Anisimov blew a chance skating through the slot and Vinny Prospal couldn't dunk home a puck from the doorstep to name two. Maybe it is that the Rangers didn't believe they could score before Staal's puck went in but the Panthers certainly didn't appear to have the momentum after the Rangers got their legs back mid-second period - they were clearly tired at the outset.
*For the second straight night Hank played up to his royal moniker and avoided any soft goals against. Hank got lucky that Kamil Kreps' shot early in the third found iron and that Corey Stillman missed an empty net a minute later because either would have sapped the momentum that (may or may not have) came from the Staal goal. The one Florida tally - Keith Ballard's - came on a blast through a screen of three players so you can hardly fault the netminder. All told though, the King made 19 saves in all but it must be stated that this Panther team doesn't have the claws it once did.
*As I tweeted, Jody Shelley is proving to be an articulate and interesting interview. He has also showed off some hockey smarts as he fits in on the line with Prust and Arty. If he shows up for the Philly games the way we need him to and sticks around for next season, I wouldn't mind seeing him back on Broadway next season - maybe even with an A on his sweater (should Prospal not return). It would certainly send a message!
*Erik Christensen has spoken about the need to step up his game to play for a job for next season. Well, losing 11 of 11 faceoffs isn't stepping things up. He has been a solid player but his future is still quite cloudy and performances like tonight's darkens those clouds.
*After the Tampa game Torts said that he needed to get a better look at Corey Locke. So what did he do? He put Locke on the ice for all of four minutes. It is always good to root for the little guy and Locke is quite little so hopefully he will get a shot to show off what he's got.
*PHW Three Stars
3-Keith Ballard - one goal.
2-Brandon Prust - one goal.
1-Marc Staal - one goal.
Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Prust - Another game, another goal. Ho hum. North-south power pucks is making Sather look better and better for adding this tough guy to the roster.
2-Staal - I nearly gave this star to Voros for his fight and assist but Staal's goal was just so pretty and Staalsie did have more than 25 minutes of ice time.
1-Dan Girardi - It wasn't too long ago that Girardi had all but played himself off of Broadway but in this game he was a physical force making smart defensive plays and quick passes. He had a big hit and a lot of blocked shots. We'll never forget the Gaborik/Carcillo incident but more games like this will let us forgive him for it.