‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers finished their nine-game homestand on a remarkable high note by earning back-to-back victories over the Minnesota Wild and Toronto Maple Leafs.
A large portion of that credit belongs to determined backup goaltender Cam Talbot, who steadied the ship by earning consecutive wins in consecutive days after star netminder Henrik Lundqvist allowed three goals or greater in each of his seven starts during the homestand.
“It ends on a high note for us,” Talbot said. “We really needed those two points and we needed the two points last night. We got the job done when we needed to, going into the Christmas break here. Hopefully we can come out of the Christmas break and continue to play the way we were the past two games.”
The Blueshirts are 8-2-0 when playing in front of Talbot and are a lowly 10-15-2 when the highly-paid Lundqvist stands between the pipes.
While Lundqvist has not been anywhere near his best, this team has shown a supreme level of confidence when the “goal-busting” Talbot is manning the crease.
Center Derek Stepan praised Talbot’s composed play as the 26-year-old netminder successfully fended off four Toronto power plays, held strong during overtime and outdueled Jonathan Bernier in the shootout.
“He’s been great all season long,” Stepan said. “He’s been doing it all season long. He’s calm and collected.”
CONTROVERSIAL LEAFS GOAL ROBS TALBOT OF A SHUTOUT
Talbot was unlucky not to earn a regulation shutout victory. J.T. Miller’s one-timed goal at 7:04 should have stood as the game-winner.
An unusual situation emerged when on-ice referees did not blow the play dead with 1:43 remaining after Talbot covered a wraparound David Clarkson chance. The puck was not visible, yet there was no whistle blown. Leafs center Nazem Kadri continued to jam away and the puck tricked past Talbot.
The goal was upheld by the review folks in the “situation room” in Toronto.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault was displeased with the controversial ruling.
“In my opinion, that was the wrong call,” Vigneault said. “The referee had told Brad (Richards) on the ice that if they didn’t score on the wraparound, then it wasn’t a goal. They didn’t score on the wraparound. Kadri came in front the middle and poked it in. The puck was underneath Cam’s pad. How Toronto saw it differently, I’m not quite sure, but you’ve just got to play through those things, and that’s what we did.”
NO GOALIE CONTROVERSY IN NEW YORK, BUT A.V. MIGHT RIDE SCORCHING-HOT TALBOT
Let’s be clear. There isn’t a goalie controversy brewing.
Even if Vigneault continues to ride the hot hand by starting Talbot in Washington on Friday when the Rangers begin their five-game road swing, it should not be interpreted as a goalie controversy.
Talbot’s confidence is sky-high. He wasn’t shaken by Toronto’s unjust tying goal that erased his shutout bid.
“We had to move forward and win a different way,” Talbot said.
These are the words of a goalie who trusts himself and his teammates.
The Leafs only were able to generate 26 shots, but Talbot confidently made key saves in pressured moments. Both he and his teammates raised their competitive fire in overtime.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh made the play of the game by chasing back to catch and disrupt a clear scoring chance by Leafs scoring ace Phil Kessel in the overtime period.
Vigneault did not offer any hint as to who will start between the pipes in Washington on Friday.
“I’ll focus on the 27th when we get back,” Vigneault said.
RANGERS APPEAR TO HAVE TURNED THE CORNER
After beginning the homestand dreadfully at 1-4-2, the Blueshirts have turned the corner heading into the Christmas break by playing their best hockey from start to finish over their past two games.
“This is the way we want to play,” Stepan said. “This is something that, as a group, we have been close at times, but the last two games we played for a full 60.”
Winger Mats Zuccarello feels that all four lines are clicking and the Rangers are playing smart, simple hockey. In other words, the Rangers are reacting naturally on the ice and not overthinking.
“Everybody contributed,” Zuccarello said. “We’ve got four lines doing well and playing a simple game. If we play like that, we’re a good team.”
Both the players and A.V. were in good spirits following Monday’s shootout victory.
“It’s safe to say that we are leaving for the holidays on a much happier note,” Vigneault said.
The Rangers are off until Friday. Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas, a warm holiday season and safe travels.
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