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Hartnett: Relax Everyone — There’s No Need To Break Up These Rangers

Blueshirts Need To Show Some Consistency, But Otherwise The Talent Is There
The Rangers’ Derek Stepan, right, celebrates his first-period  goal against Pittsburgh along with Mats Zuccarello at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 6, 2013. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Rangers’ Derek Stepan, right, celebrates his first-period goal against Pittsburgh along with Mats Zuccarello at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 6, 2013. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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

The Rangers sent a resounding message Wednesday night, not only to one of the best teams in the NHL, but also to their own general manager, Glen Sather.

Leave us be. We’ll get it.

Considering how they skated the Pittsburgh Penguins off the ice, they deserve the benefit of the doubt, at least for now.

Throughout the week, names of Blueshirts’ stars have cropped up in potential trade discussions between Sather and Edmonton Oilers’ general manager Craig MacTavish.

The Oilers once again sent a delegation — MacTavish, president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe and special adviser Mark Messier — to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

Unless the Oilers are desperate to offload former No. 1 overall draft pick Nail Yakupov, Sather shouldn’t be in a rush to dismantle his roster.

Not after what we saw against Pittsburgh.

When the Rangers have so many things clicking for them, why mess with a good thing? The Blueshirts delivered a memo to their GM: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

The Rangers played their best game of the season, thrashing the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins 5-1.

Thanks to the outstanding netminding of Henrik Lundqvist, New York weathered an early storm of Pittsburgh chances. Lundqvist was an ever-present force in the first 15 minutes of the first period, calming a frenzy of pressured chances through a collection of acrobatic saves that could earn a place on King Henrik’s career highlight reel.

Once the Rangers found their feet, the floodgates opened on Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Blueshirts struck quickly and decisively as Ryan McDonagh opened the scoring at 18:08. Moments later, Mats Zuccarello lifted a lead pass in the direction of a rushing Derek Stepan, who doubled the Rangers advantage. Within a space of 1:05, the Rangers looked like the team they can be and the Penguins were in major trouble.

“I’m starting to get my legs underneath me and that’s a big part of getting myself where I want to be,” Stepan said following the victory.

For a moment, you thought the roof would come off the renovated Garden given the noise of the delighted fans. While there was a considerable number of Penguins fans in attendance, they were kept quiet as the Rangers performed as a unit. Outside of Kris Letang’s marker on a second-period power play, the highly skilled Penguins were rendered null and void.

The opposite could be said about Rangers checking line center Brian Boyle, who assisted on McDonagh’s opening goal and scored his long-awaited first goal of the season at 13:10 in the second period.

“It felt good. I was happy it hit the net,” Boyle said.

Throughout the early season, Boyle has been a reliable penalty killer and faceoff specialist. Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said he was pleased to see Boyle finally rewarded for his efforts.

“He’s had some quality chances. Hopefully, this gets him going,” Vigneault said.

No skater had more of an impact than all-action captain Ryan Callahan. The 28-year-old winger was able to sweep away a goal-bound puck in the first period and then deflected a puck home at 15:38 of the second period.

Vigneault praised Callahan’s unique ability to read and react with incredible mental quickness.

“He understands the game within the game that’s going on, on the ice,” Vigneault said. “He gets those different little situations. He makes our team a really, really good team when he’s on top of his game.”

Callahan felt the Rangers as a whole performed tremendously from top to bottom in the statement-making victory.

“Everyone contributed through the lineup,” Callahan said. “That’s what you need when you’re playing one of the top teams in the league.”

RANGERS SHUT DOWN PENS SUPERSTAR CROSBY

Here’s another reason to leave the Rangers alone: when they are on their game defensively they can neutralize basically any one star player.

Sidney Crosby entered Wednesday night riding a four-game point streak. But as the game went on, Crosby vanished.

The captain of the Penguins became more and more frustrated as the night wore on, as evidenced by his chirping at officials and the Rangers. Chris Kreider, in particular, was a thorn in Crosby’s side more often than not.

Evgeni Malkin was pretty much a non-factor as well, registering just an assist and a single shot on goal.

Rangers’ defenseman Marc Staal made a number of big plays that helped keep the Penguins’ stars quiet.

“He played real well tonight,” defensive linemate Anton Stralman said. “We work well as a pair. We didn’t give much time or opportunities to them.”

Next up, the Rangers need to start showing a bit more consistency. They played well against West power Anaheim and just dominated Pittsburgh. They’ll look to carry that over to Thursday when they travel to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets, who feature a ton of former Rangers.

It will be interesting to see how the Blueshirts respond against Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik, Artem Anisimov and Fedor Tyutin.

If the Rangers play like they did Wednesday, it shouldn’t matter who their opponents are.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey

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