The New York Rangers’ closed out the 2011 portion of the season with a sound 4-1 beating of the Southeast leading Florida Panthers’. It was a big win for the Blueshirts, giving them 50 points in the standings with 5 games still to play before the midway mark. More importantly it was a convincing bounce back win after a poor effort in Washington this past Wednesday.
Good teams string together wins, but sometimes string together some losses as well. Elite teams stop the bleeding right away. Instead of letting the loss they took to the Capitals loom over them the Rangers’ responded with an effort that showed character. This team did not look past Florida to Monday’s Winter Classic matchup with the Flyers. They went out and took the two points that were available to them Friday night, allowing them to enter the Classic with confidence and focus. The loss in Washington had no lingering effects as the team looked good in all zones of the ice, taking the play to the Panthers and building a 3-0 lead. While it appeared the team took their foot off the gas as Florida came on strong in the second, Henrik Lundqvist made the Cats look like kittens, routinely turning away whatever chances were offered. The Blueshirts picked up their play in the third and finished off the 4-1 victory with ease.
As a cautious fan, I’m not ready to anoint the Rangers’ the rank of NHL elite, but with win streaks, quick turnarounds, 60 minute efforts and 50 points before the New Year I have to give them their due. They are taking care of business and doing it without 3 of their top 6 defensemen in the lineup. With Marc Staal presumably on the mend, this defense could be the stingiest in the league when healthy, especially with Lundqvist between the pipes. If they can avoid the late season slump we’ve become accustomed to the past few seasons we just may have a real contender on our hands.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Playing .500 hockey the rest of the way would lock up a playoff spot for sure, but would do nothing to excise the demons of seasons past. The Rangers need to stay focused and continue to make believers out of the league, and more importantly themselves. String together wins; bounce back quickly from the losses. Pile on the points, pile up the confidence and give the fans a reason to cheer deep into the Playoffs. At this point anything less may look, dare I say, like a disappointment.
- Barring a setback it appears Marc Staal may be ready to rejoin the team in early January.
- Brandon Dubinsky has scored in 3 of the last 5 games, Carl Hagelin in 4 of the last 6.
- Brad Richards had a goal and assist after going pointless in his last 5.
- Michael Del Zotto, 22 points in 36 games, is on pace for 50 pts, a plateau not reached since Brian Leetch did it a decade ago.
Hockey This Week
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