No one could dare question the New York Rangers‘ battle level against the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night. In yet another critical home game, the Rangers faced challenge after challenge from a pesky Leafs team and prevailed in a shootout, 2-1. And when I say challenge after challenge, that is being kind. The Rangers arguably faced more adversity in this game than any other game this season. The result was the most satisfying win in a long time.
The two goaltenders in this game, the Leafs’ Jonathan Bernier and the Rangers’ Cam Talbot, played brilliantly. The Rangers peppered Bernier with 22 shots on goal in the second period to the Leafs’ five. Bernier made great save after great save when the Rangers probably should have had at least five goals. Overall, he faced 42 shots and had to earn almost all of them.
A couple of weeks ago, the Rangers most likely would have been discouraged to the point where their battle level would have plummeted to abysmal levels. On this night, the Rangers kept chipping away until they finally put one past Bernier. J.T. Miller‘s second goal of the season appeared to put the Rangers in front for good. Based on Talbot’s play and the defense’s tightness, confidence was high.
Then, the ultimate test of adversity came when Nazem Kadri scored for the Leafs with less than two minutes to go. Talbot appeared to have covered the puck near the goal line with his glove for at least four seconds. The referee appeared to be ready to blow the whistle to stop play, but didn’t, and Kadri eventually swatted the puck into the net. It was an atrocious job by the officiating to not only fail to stop play, but to allow the goal to stand following video review. Anger was prevalent throughout Madison Square Garden in the faces and voices of the fans, players and coaches. Nevertheless, it provided a major test of composure for the Rangers.
Like they did for the first 58 minutes preceding, they chipped away. Once Talbot stopped Kadri for his final save in the shootout, a collective sigh of relief was breathed. A loss in this game not only would have been devastating, but one that would have come with an asterisk in the court of public opinion. It was critical that the Rangers win these back-to-back games to complete their long homestand, and they did.
It was the most satisfying win of the season, not only from a competitive standpoint, but from a win-loss standpoint, too. The Rangers are tied for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference following this game, and if they continue to play the way they did against the Leafs, they will begin climbing the standings.