Who says there's no such thing as an entertaining 1-0 game?
The New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings did their best to put that misnomer to rest Thursday night at the Garden, firing a combined 86 shots on net. Mats Zuccarello scored the games lone goal with just under 6 minutes remaining, Henrik Lundqvist was resplendent in making 38 saves for his 3rd shutout, and Detroit's Jimmy Howard matched him save for save–and then some–but was ultimately undone by an unfortunate bounce.
That "unfortunate bounce" came in the form of Zuccarello's game winner. The Rangers broke out of their own zone with speed–prompted by Benoit Pouliots' takeaway–and Brassard and Zuccarello worked a give-and-go at the Detroit blue line. When the Norwegian tried to feed Pouliot in the slot, his pass glanced off the leg of Brian Lashoff and beat Howard short side. Zuccarello later deadpanned:
"I went top cheese with it."
Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.
The goal is the wingers 12th–and his 7th in the 3rd period–placing him in a 3-way tie for the team lead in goals with Brad Richards and Chris Kreider. But if there's one player on the Rangers who's earned a fortunate bounce now and then, it's Zuccarello, who now has 34 points in 41 games since being made a healthy scratch early in the year. Alain Vigneault seemed to echo that sentiment, saying:
"I think all players make their good fortune by the right work ethic, the right attitude, the right commitment."
Whether you call it deserved good fortune or just sheer luck, it seemed like an unorthodox bounce would be the only way either team would be able to score–especially after the Rangers failed to capitalize on 3 glorious scoring chances in the 2nd.
After a blocked shot, Carl Hagelin didn't get all of a rebound attempt from the slot, allowing Howard to make a sprawling reactionary save, Rick Nash fanned on a chance right on the doorstep, and Ryan Callahan missed a yawning net after deking Howard out of position.
Guess you could say Howard had some good fortune of his own. But, aside from those 3 instances, he was splendid, turning aside 47 shots in a rotten-luck losing effort. Lundqvist came up big when he was needed too, especially in the games dying moments, when he reached behind him and covered a loose puck on the goaline after Gustav Nyquist's shot hit the post. Vigneault remarked that:
"What you saw tonight was two goaltenders on top of their game. Both teams were getting some chances."
The King appears to have put a miserable December behind him, having allowed 3 or less goals in his last 6 outings, and at 16-17-3, pulling within a game of .500 personally. The Rangers improve to 25-21-3 with the victory, and have won 4 of 5 as they get set to head to Ottawa on Saturday, before returning to the friendly confines of the Garden for 3 more.
If there's a downside to this game, it's that the Blueshirts have scored just twice on their last 82 shots dating back to Tuesday vs. Tampa. The common denominator in those two contests is penalties–or more specifically, a lack there of. The Rangers had just two opportunities with the man advantage in each of those games.
It's a common issue for teams that rely on their power play for the bulk of their offense: Scoring becomes problematic when the opposition avoids the box. Referees have always seemed to have a penchant for letting more go as the season progresses–they certainly did in this one–and that, coupled with teams' adjusting to what, specifically, is being emphasized in the rule book this particular season, results in less penalties as the year wanes.
With that in mind, the goal becomes clear: The Rangers must find a way to consistently finish off chances at even strength to compliment their suddenly formidable power play.
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