One game is won at the lost possible millisecond. Another game is won by being opportunistic. A few more are buoyed by standout goaltending. While many others are won by purely dominating. Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, however, the New York Rangers triumphed in a way they'd only done one other time this season -- Nov. 3 -- in the shootout. Despite being the "better" team for much of the night, the Blueshirts couldn't shrug off the pesky Phoenix Coyotes, instead having to prevail 2-1 in the skills competition with Derek Stepan's sixth-round goal the decisive one.
The victory gives the Rangers five in a row and 10 over their last 11 games. They also improved their league-leading point total to 58 points.
The first period was a precursor to what was to come: the Rangers generated more chances, but the Coyotes were pretty solid defensively and relied heavily on goaltender Mike Smith to keep them in the game and ultimately earn a point. The Rangers held a 12-5 shots advantage through the first 20 minutes but couldn't break through despite some great opportunities from the fourth line.
The second period was again more of the same: the Blueshirts finished with a 9-5 shot advantage, but both Henrik Lundqvist and Smith were sharp when called upon. New York had a power play but generated one shot and has one power-play marker over its last six games. The man advantage ranks at 20th in the league, and if one could only wonder how dangerous this team would be if they could make teams pay for being in the penalty box. It's also what makes you worry a bit, because it could be an Achilles heel down the stretch when the "meaning" of games are more heavily scrutinized.
Finally, New York would find the twine in the third period on a Ruslan Fedotenko goal 2:27 in with Brian Boyle screening and a scrum in front. Tortorella sought more offensive contributions from his bottom-six guys and he certainly got that tonight, with Boyle getting his first points in 12 games. But the Yotes would answer less than 10 minutes later as Radim Vrbata potted his 20th of the year. It was disappointing for the Rangers in that they couldn't find the goal to put them ahead, despite a well-played game.
The Blueshirts had a chance to win it outright in overtime when Stepan banked a pass off the boards to spring Marian Gaborik on a breakaway, who was slashed by Adrian Aucoin. Only Smith's athletic sprawling stick save on the penalty shot kept the game from ending. As the Rangers' third shooter, Gaborik answered Vrbata's shootout goal as well to keep the skills competition going, and Stepan's was the winner as Lundqvist made the save on Shane Doan.