By Brian Monzo
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It only took three seconds for things to heat up.
Mike Rupp and Cam Janssen waited three seconds into last night’s game to drop the gloves and set the pace for a thrilling game at the Rock. After three fast paced, hard hitting period and a shorthanded goal, the Rangers found themselves on the better side of a 4-1 win over the rival Devils. The Blueshirts were able to end the Devils’ current four-game winning streak, while notching a two-game streak of their own.
I learned (or re-learned) three things about the Rangers last night:
1. Henrik Lundqvist, quietly, continues to be the best player on the team. He stopped 30 of 31 shots last night, including two clutch stops on the penalty kill late in the third period. You hear about Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan, but it is Lundqvist that continues to be their best player. Lundqvist gives the Rangers a shot to win game in and game out.
With Marty Biron giving the King the needed to rest to stay sharp for the playoffs, the Rangers should be in good shape moving to the later stages in the season.
2. Dan Girardi, with or without Marc Staal in the lineup, is a horse of a defenseman. In doing the opposite of Lundqvist, Girardi is playing nearly 30:00 per game, and playing well. Girardi is always matched up, with his partner Ryan McDonagh against the opposing team’s best players.
He gets it done. Even with Staal, Eminger and Sauver out. He blocks shots, he clears bodies, he clears the puck, he works the power play and he does everything else in between. When Staal does return, Girardi’s minutes will decrease a tad, but if there was an award for the best defensive defenseman at the end of the season, Girardi would win, hands down.
3. Derek Stepan is turning into some player. Sophomore slump? No such thing here. Now through 31 games, Stepan has seven goals, added 17 assist for 24 points. He is seven assists short of matching his total from last season.
As we wrote about Tuesday, Michael Del Zotto struggled his second season. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t fear the same thing with Stepan. He is playing on one of the Rangers’ top two lines with Artem Anisimov and Gaborik, and has been getting better by the game, and perhaps playing his best game last night against New Jersey.
The Rangers now wait for the Islanders to come to MSG tomorrow night. The Isles, while struggling, always give the Rangers a tight battle, and I would expect nothing less when they meet.
This is an important game for the Rangers to get the two points and handle business heading into Friday’s war with the Flyers.
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