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Hartnett: Resurgent Rangers Appear To Be Turning The Corner

Blueshirts Orchestrate Shutdown Of Their Own In Nation's Capital
John Moore of the New York Rangers celebrates with Ryan McDonagh after scoring in the second period against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

John Moore of the New York Rangers celebrates with Ryan McDonagh after scoring in the second period against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

The government shutdown has finally ended. Yet on Wednesday night, the New York Rangers charged into our nation’s capital, executing an emphatic shutdown of the Washington Capitals’ league-best power play.

“The Great Eight” Alex Ovechkin vanished as the game went on. The Blueshirts effectively took the lethal sniper out of the game through a brand of rugged physicality and persistent shot blocking.

When it was all said and done, the Rangers cooled off Washington’s red-hot power play on four occasions, including a 55-second five-on-three power play during the first period.

Fiercely competitive netminder Henrik Lundqvist earned his first shutout of the season, saving all 22 Washington shots on goal. The suddenly stout Rangers blocked 22 shots from Lundqvist’s path, a number that surely would have satisfied former head coach John Tortorella.

Unlike Tortorella’s “safe is death” system that chained the Rangers in their own end, Vigneault’s uptempo system gives defensemen freedom to jump into the rush.

It was just a matter of Rangers defensemen coming to grips with that new-found responsibility, along with making the quick, crisp passes desired by Vigneault, cutting out the turnovers and understanding the transition from zone-based defending to man-on-man.

Signs of the Rangers breaking out of their malaise were apparent in Saturday’s 5-3 loss in St. Louis. If not for the woeful play of recently demoted goaltender Martin Biron, the Rangers might’ve snuck out of Scottrade Center with a victory over the formidable Blues.

The Rangers entered Verizon Center on Wednesday and dominated the Capitals in all facets of the game in their 2-0 win.

If the Blueshirts can replicate this kind of complete performance throughout the season, they’ll win a ton of games. They appeared to turn the corner in D.C.

CALLAHAN AND RICHARDS ARE ON THE SAME WAVELENGTH

Center Brad Richards has completely transformed back into the wizard-like playmaker of his Dallas and Tampa years. He’s no longer a forlorn figure on the ice. It’s clear that his confidence has been recharged under Vigneault. Richards has been the Rangers’ most consistent player through six games.

The 33-year-old has developed a telepathic understanding with linemate Ryan Callahan, setting up the Rangers captain with a flurry of scoring chances.

After John Moore’s tricky shot from the high-point gave the Rangers a 1-0 second period lead, Callahan doubled the Blueshirts’ advantage less than two minutes later.

Richards was the architect on Callahan’s sensational goal, delivering a crisp feed across Braden Holtby’s goalmouth as Callahan alertly darted into position, lifting the puck into air and finished off the goal with what can only be described as a “lacrosse move.”

The usually reserved “Captain Cally” then let loose with a bizarre impromptu celebration. Callahan pumped his fist across the ice before falling off-balance along the glass and then posed in front of a group of Capitals fans, roaring at them. It might be an early contender for “celly of the season.”

STEPAN SCARE AVOIDED

While Rick Nash missed his third consecutive game due to a concussion, Rangers fans held their collective breathes when Troy Brouwer collided with center Derek Stepan 51 seconds into the third period.

Brouwer’s forearm made contact with Stepan’s head. No penalty was called. There appeared to be no intent on the part of Brouwer to deliver a headshot as he was clearly following the puck.

The incident drew a fiery reaction from the Rangers’ bench, with Callahan most notably jawing at Brouwer.

Stepan returned at 8:17 after passing initial concussion tests. He repeatedly said he was “fine” while chatting with reporters postgame.

The Rangers found their game on Wednesday night — and finally received a stroke of luck as Stepan appears to have avoided any ill-effects from the hit.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey

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