Don't look now -- and yes it's only 12 games -- but those once-'struggling' New York Rangers are 6-2-1 in their last nine games, and on a three-game roll after their latest 5-3 victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. Granted, the Blueshirts nearly coughed up a three-goal, first-period lead, but they did what they had to do to get the two points in an energy-filled clash between two Original Six teams.
If there's one thing that's certain about John Tortorella's Rangers, it's that they are a close-knit group that isn't afraid to stick up for one another. Just over 4 minutes into the game, Mike Blunden slammed an unsuspecting Brandon Dubinsky and captain Ryan Callahan went to his teammate's defense. Michael Sauer even got caught up in the action and fought Petteri Nokelainen, earning themselves fighting and game-misconduct penalties.
Out of all that, the Rangers earned themselves a two-minute five-on-three power play. Erik Christensen scored his first goal of the season -- an easy slam-dunk goal -- via a perfect pass from Derek Stepan. Dan Girardi chipped in with one of his own and Michael Del Zotto ended the first-period scoring frenzy with a ridiculous goal of his own as he took a pass streaking into the zone from Stepan and back handed the puck past goaltender Carey Price. The Rangers had 16 shots, compared to three for the Canadiens.
Just when the thoughts crept into your mind that the Rangers could walk out of Madison Square Garden with an easy victory, Montreal bounced back with a goal 24 seconds in by Max Pacioretty as the Blueshirts struggled to generate the same effective forecheck and offense in the second period. Twelve minutes later, the Habs cut New York's lead to one on an Andrei Kostitsyn power-play goal.
Instead of going into the third period nursing a one-goal lead however, Brad Richards came up with a huge goal with about two minutes left in the period, snapping a shot over the glove hand of price off a nice drop-pass from Brandon Prust. The Rangers were outshot 13-6 in the period, but managed to head into the final 20 minutes up, 4-2.
The Canadiens would again make things interesting in the third period as Brian Gionta scored with 1:50 left. But the Rangers -- confidently this time -- protected this lead and it never felt like it would disappear. Ryan Callahan scored the empty-neter.
Earning the 'W' is the most important part, but this game could've been much easier to stomach had the Rangers been more effective on the power play. They were 1-for-9 on the night. They couldn't make the Habs pay, thus they couldn't bury their opponents and left themselves vulnerable at the end.