The New York Rangers are officially the NHL's best team but getting there wasn't easy. They jumped out to a quick two-goal lead in the first period against the Eastern Conference's No. 2 team, the Boston Bruins, but ended up needing two third-period markers -- and pivotal one by Derek Stepan -- to come away with the 4-3 win at Madison Square Garden.
In a first period with three fights, New York quickly got on the board 5:05 in when Ruslan Fedotenko deflected Anton Stralman's point shot past Tim Thomas. It got another one as Carl Hagelin wrapped in a shot off of defender Greg Zanon via a very smart cross-ice dump in from Brad Richards. For a team that prides itself on hard work and winning puck battles, the Rangers did that for the first half of the first period. The Bruins called a timeout following the second goal, and Benoit Pouliot potted an easy one when Anton Stralman decided to clear the puck up the middle instead of down the boards, beating Henrik Lundqvist through the five-hole. New York went into the first intermission up 2-1 as Boston really got things together after it regrouped.
The Rangers allowed a quick goal from Jordan Caron 1:40 into the second period on another bone-headed play. Dan Girardi got fooled on a Bruins' line change, decided to clear the puck cross-ice out of the zone and it was intercepted by Caron, who slapped it by Lundqvist. New York was thoroughly outplayed in the second period, down 10-3 in shots and 24-11 in the game. It was lucky to get out of the second period with the lead.
Credit the Blueshirts, as they have all season, for sticking with the gameplan and staying composed. They'd frittered away a two-goal lead, but just had to win one more period to come out with the win, and that's what they did. Marian Gaborik deposited his 32nd on a hard-working, winning-battles-type shift at 3:14 of the third period, and it looked like New York was well on its way to pushing their lead to 12 points on the Bruins. But David Krejci answered back about eight minutes later as a diving Girardi half deflected an odd-man rush pass right to the center for the easy goal.
Not even a minute later, the resilient Rangers answered right back. Stepan took a pass from Michael Del Zotto and roofed a wicked wrist shot to the top right corner of the net, beating Thomas glove-side.
New York held on, improving its record to 42-15-7, 91 points. And as much as Lundqvist seemed to have problems controlling rebounds, he made 30 saves and was the reason the Rangers had a chance to prevail. Even more impressive is that they've beaten the Bruins three times this season, and this time they did it without their heart-and-soul player.