WINNIPEG---In an ideal world, the Rangers could erase the tape of the first half of tonight’s game against thee Jets: Five consecutive penalties, turnovers and surrendering two goals in 56 seconds to a Western Conference team that had little to gain.
But the second half was a keeper. The last 30 or 35 minutes of the 4-2 defeat of the Jets, was, in the words of John Tortorella, “the best we’ve played in a while…I thought it was one of the strongest second halves we’ve had.”
Trailing 2-0, Michael Del Zotto netted a shorthander at 7:44 of the second period that seemed to revive the Blueshirts, who have won five of six and are now 49-21-7, with 105 points, and five points clear of the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers have five games to play, the Penguins six.
“All the penalties we took we just couldn’t get our game going,” said Tortorella. “Making it 2-1, instead of them maybe making it 3-0, was the key moment of the game.”
With Brandon Dubinsky in the box for slashing, Del Zotto, who had three points, crashed the net and jammed in Ryan Callahan’s rebound to cut the lead to 2-1. It was the team’s eighth shorthanded goal and the first since Brandon Prust scored against the Capitals on Feb. 12.
“We could have easily caved in there, especially in a back-to-back and especially, after killing those penalties,” said Callahan. “I think it shows that if we keep working at it, we’re never out of a game.”
The brilliant play of Callahan, who also had three points and was tremendous in all three zones, cannot be overlooked. He led a 5 on 3 penalty kill for 1:53 in the first, blocking shots and passes, set up Del Zotto’s shorthander and scored the tying goal on a power play, one of two man-advantage goals, late in the second period. Callahan corraled Marian Gaborik’s rebound in front, spun to his forehand and beat Ondrej Pavelec at 18:23 to square the game at 2.
Henrik Lundqvist, starting his seventh consecutive game, faced 17 of the first 21 shots. “We come in here late last night, there’s a lot of things you can have as an excuse, but guys stepped up. That goal (Del Zotto’s) meant a lot to us. We felt, “all right, let’s go.’ ’’
At 3:07 of the third, Brian Boyle outmuscled Brian Little in the corner, powered to the net and backhanded a puck off and over the right pad of Pavelec at 3:07 for his third goal in four games and provided the Rangers their first lead of the night. “I think all of them came from a total of four and a half feet,” said Boyle. “I’ve had no luck scoring from far out, that’s for sure.”
And credit Derek Stepan, who scored the fourth goal at 10:06 of the third, for reviving the sluggish power play, ranked near the bottom of the league. “Using Step on the point, and the puck movement, helped us tonight,” Tortorella said. “I think Step brought a different level of patience.”
In all, three of the goals came via special teams, and Callahan said, “It would be great in the playoffs to have success there. It gives us something to build on.”