After the Rangers first survived the trade deadline unscathed and then a 2-0 defensive war with the New Jersey Devils tonight, there was time for reflection.
“There’s a bit of an exhale,” after the 3 p.m. deadline passed, said Mike Rupp. “We were a little chipper in the room before the game. You sacrifice a lot to get here.”
Those sacrifices continued in a high-energy, chippy, entertaining, if not high-scoring, game with playoff intensity that wasn’t sealed until Ryan Callahan scored into an empty net with 1:06 left on a feed from Carl Hagelin, who scored the first goal in the first period.
“It turned into a grinding contest,” said coach John Tortorella. “There wasn;t much room. It was a fight-for-your ice kind of game.” Indeed, each team recorded a season low in shots: The Rangers 15, the Devils 13.
“Both teams played smart,” said Henrik Lundqvist who has four shutouts in his last 12 games and league-leading eight on the season, as well as 30 wins in each of his first seven seasons, an NHL record. “It wasn’t the most exciting game I played, but I’ll take it, it’s two points. It was weird; You know that sooner of later they will get one or two chances, especially when it’s 1-nothing, I had to push myself to stay focused.”
Lundqvist preserved the whitewash, and the Blueshirts’ 40th win of the season, with a glove save on a rising snap shot from Ilya Kovalchuk in the left circle with 2:26 to play. With the win, the Rangers are 40-15-6, and with 86 points, passed the Detroit Red Wings for second place overall in the NHL.
Brandon Dubinsky, who had heard all the rumors about his being a centerpiece of a proposed trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for Rick Nash, played 14:02, had five of 37 hits and dropped the gloves with David Clarkson after Clarkson jumped to whack him high along the boards at 19:27 of the second period. The “Dubi, Dubi” chants rained down as he skated off. Said Tortorella: “He, along with everyone else, did the job along the walls and Dubi gets in a good fight.”
“It was just a matter of time, (before Clarkson fought somebody)” said Dubinsky, who vowed that he had 22 games left to step up and turn around a season in which he has just six goals. “He seems to always turn away from the tougher guys….That’s just the way he is.”
Aggressive forechecking and pounding on the boards were the signature of the game. The Rangers had 15 hits in the first period, three each from Mike Rupp, Brian Boyle and Callahan and 27 after two periods. Hagelin’s 11th goal of the season, and third point in two games after a goal and assist against the Sabres, was the only tally.
In that case, the forechecking paid off. Callahan shrugged off Devils defenseman Andy Greene behind the net and found Hagelin at the left post as defenseman Mark Fayne spun towards Callahan, and Hagelin’s quick shot beat Brodeur with 3:05 left in the first period. Hagelin has four goals and 10 assists in the last 18 games. Callahan has 11 points in the last 10 games. The goal was also critical because the Rangers are now 29-1-2 when scoring first.
“We can score some goals,” said Ryan McDonagh.”If we defend well enough, we can win some games.”