The New York Rangers were down 2-0 in the first period against the lowly Calgary Flames. Hope looked to be all but lost. Then, something happened that should have happened many games ago: they fought back. Their new-found never-say-die attitude was rewarded with a difficult 4-3 shootout win, by far the most critical of the season.
Carl Hagelin had his best game of the season, chipping in a nifty wrap-around goal to tie the game at two in the second period. Derek Stepan also scored a critical goal, tallying one literally seconds after the Flames made it 2-0. It occurred not a moment too soon as the boos and “Fire Sather” chants rained down from 18,000 people at Madison Square Garden.
The anger from the fans was palpable from the start. Following a brilliant first shift, the Rangers looked flat once again. The Flames scored two goals, but in reality should have had five. Henrik Lundqvist made some spectacular saves to bail out the non-existent defensive coverage in front of him. Although there was still plenty of time left in the game, few would have believed that the Rangers would fight back.
Well, not only did the Rangers control play for the majority of the final 45 minutes plus overtime, but they actually played like they wanted to win. Where was this attitude all last week against winnable opponents?
It still took a late Chris Kreider goal, killing a four-minute penalty at the end of regulation and beginning of overtime, and a nerve-wracking seven-round shootout, but the Rangers earned the win. The unlikely shootout hero was the beleaguered Benoit Pouliot, channeling his inner Peter Forsberg with a nifty goal for the Rangers’ fourth of the skills competition.
Is this a season-defining win? Time will tell on that, but this was by far the most critical. With the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins looming on Wednesday, it was vital for the Rangers to get a confidence boost. We’ll find out if it translates to more wins.