The New York Rangers played as well as anyone could've possibly expected–given the opponent–in dispatching the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on the road. Brad Richards, Mats Zuccarello, and Carl Hagelin all scored their 11th of the season–with Hagelin's rebound goal in the 3rd proving to be the winner–and Henrik Lundqvist battled his way to his biggest win of the year, making 35 saves en route.
It wasn't pretty–big wins rarely are–but boy was it an adventure getting there.
The Blueshirts were quicker in the matchup's early moments, and seized a 2-0 lead before the game was even 10 minutes old–silencing the normally raucous Madhouse on Madison in the process. Corey Crawford, who apparently thought this one was an 8:30 start, was victimized twice–a Brad Richards wrister threaded through a cavernous 5-hole, and a Zuccarello wrap around that deflected off the keepers own blocker into the net.
But if you thought it was over at 2-0, shame on you.
The Blackhawks responded by showing why they've won 2 cups in the past 4 years. Bit by bit, the Hawks, who seemed a little shocked to be down early on home ice themselves, turned the tide of the game, and by the end of the 1st, had forced Lundqvist to make 15 saves–several of them of the non-routine variety.
The 2nd period started much the way the 1st ended–with Chicago pressuring, and the Rangers having little answer. It seemed like only a matter of time before the defending champs would break through. They finally did on the power play 6:17 into the middle frame, when a shot from the point hit Dan Girardi, and fell right onto the stick of Jonathan Toews, who deposited it past a screened Lundqvist.
After the goal, the Hawks, sensing some doubt in the Rangers' minds for the first time all night, attacked, and found the equalizer not even 2 minutes later, when Brandon Bollig snapped one past Lundqvist short side.
It was a bad goal, and at the time, appeared to be crippling. But on this night, Lundqvist would redeem himself.
When everyone watching expected the Blackhawks to pile on and quickly make it a lopsided game, the unthinkable happened–the Rangers pushed back. Ryan Callahan said:
"It took a great effort by everyone to get this win. The key was grabbing the momentum back after they tied the game."
For a team that's been victim of the old quicksand theory more than a few times this year (one thing goes wrong, then another, then another, sending things spiraling out of control), the Rangers easily could've wilted, but they didn't. Lundqvist could've been rattled, but he wasn't.
The Blueshirts would never again have a stranglehold on the game, but they were able to play Chicago pretty even the rest of the way–no small accomplishment–setting the stage for Carl Hagelin's heroics.
After both teams had their moments on the power play in the 3rd–the Rangers early on, the Hawks midway through the frame–Corey Crawford couldn't control Marc Staal's knuckle puck of a shot from the point, and Hagelin–or Johnny on the spot if you prefer–pounced on the rebound to give the Blueshirts a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.
The final goal was no fault of Crawfords, who, despite his early struggles, made some big saves–including a breakaway stop on Nash and a deflection on the doorstep by Brassard–to keep the game knotted at 2.
The Rangers were able to survive the harrowing final 6 minutes–thanks to some heroics from Lundqvist–and escape Chicago with a 3-2 victory–their most impressive, with all due respect to the 7-1 thrashing of Toronto, win of the season.
With the victory, the Rangers–at long last–ascend to two games over the magic .500 mark (22-20-3), and move into sole position of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
After the game, Alain Vigneault said about is goaltender:
"In the end Hank came up big, like he's supposed to."
Few things have gone like they were "supposed to" so far this season for the Blueshirts, but on this night, everything clicked. The question now becomes that for a Rangers' team that's fooled us all before, is this the beginning of a trend, or merely an anomaly?
-Dan Carcillo played a team low and highly uneventful 7:15 in his Rangers debut.
-You don't always see him rewarded on the score sheet when he plays well, but Marc Staal had two assists and played an excellent defensive game.
-Chris Kreider was noticeable all game. He forced the turnover that sent Nash in on a breakaway in the 2nd, and used his speed effectively driving wide several times.
-There's now a 4-way tie for the team lead in goals: Brad Richards, Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin, and Chris Kreider all have 11.
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