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Hartnett: Rangers Goalie Cam Talbot Continues Incredible Rise To Prominence

Sizzling Talbot Leads The NHL With A .938 Save Percentage
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Cam Talbot (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Cam Talbot (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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

Cam Talbot earned his ninth win of the season after the Rangers demolished the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-1 on Saturday.

When the final buzzer sounded, teammate Chris Kreider skated over to the winning goaltender from Caledonia, Ontario, and gave him a kiss on the helmet as the jubilant Rangers departed the Air Canada Center ice.

Once Talbot returned to the Rangers’ visiting locker room, teammates played “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd in honor of Talbot, who played his college hockey at a school unrenowned for producing NHL-caliber talents.

Talbot is one of two players who played college puck at the University of Alabama in Huntsville that were able to make the jump to the elite NHL stage. Jared Ross was able to play 13 games for the Philadelphia Flyers in parts of two seasons before eventually finding a long-term home with German club ERC Ingolstadt of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga.

Coincidentally, Talbot eclipsed Ross on Saturday as the Alabama-Huntsville player with the most career NHL appearances at 14. He marked the occasion by notching his third win in four starts and improving his already sparkling statistics.

Talbot is leading the NHL with a .938 save percentage and fractionally trails Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding for the goals-against average lead. Harding’s 1.65 goals-against average edges Talbot’s 1.66 GAA.

“He’s been great all season long,” teammate Derek Stepan said in late December. “He’s been doing it all season long. He’s calm and collected.”

Nicknamed “The Goal Buster,” Talbot’s journey to sudden NHL stardom has been anything but conventional.

It’s been an incredible ride for the 26-year-old, who began the season in the minors. Talbot was called up by the Rangers once Martin Biron’s usually steady backup play disintegrated in October. The popular Biron is now retired and serves as an MSG studio analyst.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault saw something special in Talbot throughout training camp and during visits to minor-league Hartford. Upon Talbot’s arrival with the big club, Vigneault mentioned that he was particularly impressed with Talbot’s ability to raise his game in pressure situations.

“I’m hoping that our players are gonna rally around this young man,” Vigneault said ahead of Talbot’s Oct. 24 debut against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Since then, the Rangers have done precisely that — they’ve collectively raised their levels as a team whenever Talbot stands between the pipes.

HARD WORK AND ATTENTION TO DETAIL PAYING OFF FOR TALBOT

For Talbot, it’s all about little details. He understands that there are always small adjustments he can make in practice that can translate into earning victories. That attention to detail is paying off for Talbot.

“I think there’s always things you can tweak, no matter what level you’re at,” Talbot said earlier this season. “When it comes game time, you go out and play your game. That’s what I try to do.”

Talbot has been outstanding, but it’s difficult to understand why the Rangers have performed with skill and inspiration when Talbot is in net — and have fizzled when franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist takes the crease.

Lundqvist is not playing anywhere near Vezina Trophy level. He’s had a few highlight games, but overall “King Henrik” has lacked consistency.

Talbot’s sensational play aside, it’s difficult to diagnose why the Blueshirts have rallied when he’s in net and slumped in front of Lundqvist. It’s almost as if they’re a separate team when Talbot is the last line of defense, and one of the most confusing storylines of the entire 2013-14 NHL season.

KREIDER’S ‘CULT HERO’ STATUS GROWS AFTER SCRAP WITH PHANEUF

Chris Kreider’s popularity has continued to peak upward due to his exciting play in a season where he’s eligible to win the Calder Trophy.

His fast skating, athleticism and natural strength are all things that excite both Rangers fans and Vigneault.

The 22-year-old American scored a filthy goal with less than six minutes remaining in the second period of Saturday’s win. Stepan launched a lifted pass in the direction of Kreider, who chased the puck down like a greyhound. Kreider then turned on the jets a further notch to blow past Leafs defenseman Cody Franson, rushing in on net and scoring a nifty backhander past goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

Then Kreider further elevated his hero status among Rangers fans by scrapping with Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf. Rangers fans still haven’t forgotten Phaneuf’s hit that brought Michael Sauer’s promising career to a halt.

The incident occurred Dec. 5, 2011 at Madison Square Garden. Sauer was skating with his head down and Phaneuf delivered a powerful hit that jarred loose Sauer’s helmet as his exposed head appeared to hit the glass before he fell to the ice.

The former Rangers defenseman has battled recurring concussion symptoms and hasn’t played since that date. Sauer is currently a free agent.

RANGERS ACQUIRE CARCILLO FOR A CONDITIONAL PICK

On Saturday, the Rangers announced the acquisition of 28-year-old winger Daniel Carcillo. The Blueshirts parted with a conditional 2014 seventh-round draft pick to bring Carcillo from Los Angeles to New York.

He will join up with the Rangers at Monday’s practice ahead of the Blueshrts’ 7 p.m. tilt with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Carcillo was a despised figure among Rangers fans during his three-year stay with the Philadelphia Flyers. Most Blueshirt diehards will remember Carcillo provoking Marian Gaborik into a fight on Jan. 21, 2010 at Wells Fargo Center.

It’s perfectly understandable why a large number of Rangers fans reacted negatively to the trade announcement. Carcillo plays with an edge that tends to boil over and lead to frequent boarding suspensions.

With agitating winger Derek Dorsett unavailable for four to six weeks due to a broken left fibula, the Blueshirts needed a player capable of playing the physical game, protecting teammates and getting under the skin of opponents.

Carcillo fills all three roles. While it might take some time for Rangers fans to warm to enforced dubbed “The Car Bomb,” they should remember that Carcillo was a member of the 2010 Eastern Conference-winning Flyers and held down part-time roles with the Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings.

It should be noted that Carcillo did not play a game in the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals with the Blackhawks. Still, he is an experienced player whom the Rangers were able to acquire without giving up any significant assets or devoting a great amount of cap space.

Carcillo’s cap hit is only $825,000. It’s a low-risk move as Carcillo is an upcoming unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2014.

You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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