Steve Zipay takes you inside the locker room, home and on the road, with the New York Rangers, and also writes about the NHL, off and on the ice.
Power play, Del Zotto's 2nd 3-point night bring NYR close to clinch
Timing is everything. All of sudden, the Rangers power play is clicking at the right time. With two power play goals for the second consecutive game---the first time that’s happened all season---the Blueshirts won their fourth straight game last night and moved a step closer to clinching the Eastern Conference title last night with a 4-1 vanquishing of the Montreal Canadiens.
With 107 points, the Blueshirts have one more than the idle St. Louis Blues and the most in the NHL. After two losses to the Islanders, the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins topped the Sabres 4-3 last night, and have 102 points, so the magic number for the Rangers is three. Each team has four games to play, including a head-to-head match in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
“Our 5-on-5 play has been great all year, penalty kill has been tremendous,” said defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who scored once on the man-advantage and twice in a game for the first time in his three-year career. “There’s a little bit of urgency and we know if we get our power play going for the playoffs, and our whole game clicking, we’ll be a tough team to stop.”
The difference in the struggling power play, which was 2-23 before the Winnipeg game and ranked 28thin the league, is that “we’re moving bodies, we’re not so stationary or predictable, working all areas of the ice, back-door plays and getting shots on net,” said Del Zotto, who also scored shorthanded and had two assists on Wednesday. “That’s the key, so the defense can’t set up.”
The win also meant that for the third time in franchise history, along with 52 wins in 1993-94 and 50 in 1991-92, the Rangers reached the 50-win threshold. The No. 1 seed and home-ice advantage in the playoffs, which no Rangers team has had since 1996, is within reach.
Starting his season-high eighth straight game, Henrik Lundqvist, who had 19 saves, came just short of his ninth shutout when Rene Bourque scored at 17:31 of the third.
For the Canadiens, their sixth loss in seven games left them mired in last place in the East with just 72 points, at 29-35-14.
Marian Gaborik put the Rangers ahead early, scoring his 39thgoal at 8:56 of the first after whiffing on a bouncing puck in the slot, then connecting to put the puck past Carey Price. Gaborik is one goal from 40 for the third time in his career and the second time in three seasons in New York.
Brad Richards, who also had two assists, then scored on a stick-side wrister at the 30-second mark of the second on a carryover power play, when the Habs were caught having too many men on the ice at 19:11 of the first. Only Evgeni Malkin has more points than Richards (seven goals, 15 assists) in March. On their fourth power play, Price could only get a piece Del Zotto’s slapper from the left point for the 3-0 lead at 8:07 of the third. He also scored at even strength at 16:58.
“It’s the right time of year,” for the power play to catch fire, said Ryan Callahan, who, before the game, was given the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award via fan vote for the third time. “Special teams are big in the playoffs and when you knock a few in, your confidence grows.”