The New York Rangers defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 tonight in a game that sees them return to playoff position as the 3rd place team in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers are by no means solidified in this position, as the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals play tomorrow night and are probably anxious to take that spot right back. Still, it is evident that the Rangers, expected by most analysts to make the playoffs easily this year, still have not given up hope of doing so.
New York completely outplayed the Blackhawks in the third period, which started as a 2-2 tie. There were a few mad scrambles late, and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was extraordinary, fighting through screens and keeping track of rebounds through chaos. The Rangers’ skaters were completely sold out and ready to prevent shots, while the Blackhawks seemed to be obsessed with making the perfect play.
Chicago could have benefited from making their plays a bit simpler. Sometimes, it is not necessary to make the perfect pass to score, and taking a long time before shooting can also alert the defense to what you are doing. That being said, it was still a phenomenal performance by New York.
Chicago does have a lot of weapons on the ice on offense, so it was very difficult for Lundqvist to deal with deflections, rebounds and second chance opportunities. They were certainly hungry in the last three to four minutes of the game, and they were almost able to even the score. It is a shame that they did not wake up before Carl Hagelin scored to give the New York Rangers the lead; elite teams are usually the one to pursue the lead during a tie as opposed to sitting back and trying to respond to the other team.
Nonetheless, the Rangers prevailed, which shows their heart, effort and character as a franchise. I would say that Lundqvist was a huge reason why they were able to prevail. Lunqvist, who has not been quite as sharp as usual this season, (2.76 GAA, .907 save percentage, not good for a goalie of his caliber) was able to put together one of his best performances of the year tonight.
It was good timing for him, as there were rumors that Cam Talbot, a younger goalie whose statistics are much better this year (1.66 GAA, .938 save percentage) was going to be taking over for Lundqvist soon, even given Henrik’s seven year, $59.5 million contract. Lunqvist has to take things one start at a time, and nights like tonight will remind Ranger fans how talented he can really be.
The Rangers realistically look like they may have a better shot at the No. 3 seed than the floundering Capitals; I also think that they are much more talented than the Hurricanes. With the players that they send out every night, they should have no problem staying in the playoff picture.
All they need to do is begin to show efforts like they did tonight, and they will get back to the gritty, shot-blocking style that brought them success under John Tortorella.