But Staal goes down
BY CHAYIM TAUBER
With hated division rival Philadelphia in the house, the Rangers won a convincing 4-2 game, leapfrogging Philly in the standings and maintaining their home dominance over the Flyers.
Ryan Callahan was tied with the Flyers 2-2 at the end of the first period. The captain netted a beautiful feed from Derek Stepan at 1:30 of the first to give the Rangers a quick 1-0 advantage. After that lead was erased following a pair of Flyers power play goals, Ryan McDonagh forced a turnover in the neutral zone and passed it ahead to Callahan who calmly skated around a sprawling Luke Schenn, deked Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, and jammed in the equalizer with a little over 40 seconds left in the first.
After Callahan’s heroics pardoned their first period mistakes, Rick Nash took them the rest of the way. Nash snapped a shot under the right arm of Ilya Bryzgalov at 2:50 of the third period to give the Rangers the lead and energize the Garden crowd.
“That’s my job, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Nash said. “It’s fun for me to play in front of a sold out building in a hockey city that truly loves the Rangers.”
Nash continued his third period onslaught (all seven of his goals this season have come in the third period) with 8:18 left when he fought through a Kimmo Timonen hook to power the puck past Bryzgalov and give the Rangers the 4-2 advantage.
“I just started smiling after he scored the second goal. It feels so good to have a player like that on the team,” said Henrik Lundqvist.
“Since he’s come back, he’s been pretty important to us,” Tortorella said, “he’s really ignited us.”
Lost in the shadow of Nash and Callahan’s heroics has been the play of third-year center Derek Stepan, and sophomore speedster Carl Hagelin.
Hagelin’s speed is a difference maker on the ice, negating (or forcing) icings, causing turnovers in the offensive zone, and creating opportunities that the Rangers would never have without his speed. He adds a dimension to the team that makes them considerably more dangerous than they were prior to his arrival last season. Hagelin’s tied with Gaborik, Nash, and Callahan for the team lead in goals.
Similarly, Stepan has contributed in a major way. He’s been the Ranges best center this season and his playmaking ability has enabled his teammates to score with relative impunity. His feed to Callahan for the first goal of the game was a perfect saucer pass across the mouth of the goal that Callahan just tapped in for an easy tally. His play created offensive opportunities all night and he’s been an underrated asset for the Blueshirts.
“Step’s overall game goes unnoticed,” Tortorella admits, “with the puck, without the puck…he’s really come on and has played really well for us.”
Stepan, Hagelin, Nash and Callahan’s offense were the stars of this game without a doubt. Still, their heroics wouldn’t have been necessary if the Rangers didn’t dig themselves a first period hole by committing dumb penalties.
It’s been the Achilles heel for this team throughout this young season and once again, the penalties reared their ugly head. They didn’t take long to do it either. Three first period penalties allowed the Flyers (down 1-0 because of a penalty of their own) to score two goals on power plays. Things settled down after the first and the only penalty the Rangers took after that was Stu Bickel’s 10 minute game misconduct from the bench (in which both he and Flyers agitator Scott Hartnell were ejected).
When all is said and done however, the conversation was about neither Callahan and Nash’s heroics or the Rangers propensity for penalties. The talk around the league is about the need for visors after Rangers defenseman Marc Staal took a puck to the eye in what appears to be a serious injury.
Flyers forward Jakob Voracek deflected a Kimmo Timonene shot from the blue line up into the unprotected right eye of Staal. Staal immediately dropped and lay writhing and bleeding on the ice for several moments. He skated off of his own power. Tortorella did not yet know the extent of the injury that both he and Callahan described as “scary”.
The injury mars what should have been a “statement win” for the Rangers. They are finally in the top-8 in the East (read: in playoff position) and continued to dominate their hated Rivals at home. They overcame early penalties and showed both discipline and resolve but all thoughts remain with the fallen Ranger.