‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers extended their winning streak to four by battling through a poor start and much adversity to earn a hard-fought 4-3 overtime victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday.
With key forwards Martin St. Louis and Derek Stepan both sick as a dog, the Rangers collectively embraced the challenge of finding a way to come back from a 2-0 first-period deficit to secure a vital, late-season victory over the hungry Coyotes.
“We continued to create offensive chances, wear them down and found a way to tie it up late and get one in overtime,” game-winning hero Ryan McDonagh said. “It’s a great effort by everyone.”
The Blueshirts showed the kind of fortitude that is required to produce a deep playoff run. There’s going to be nights when teammates are banged up or are ill. Great teams don’t feel sorry for themselves when adversity comes knocking at their door. The Rangers used hardship as their fuel, pulled together and emptied their tanks for the cause.
“It’s one of those nights where not everybody is on top of their game,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “You’ve got to find a way, and that’s what we did.”
The Garden shook when Dan Girardi scored the game-tying goal at 16:32 of the third period. Center Derick Brassard said when the arena roars with that kind of noise, it gives players a second wind. Brassard tied the game at 2-2 on a second-chance effort at 10:53 of the second period.
“That’s what gets us going,” Brassard said. “When the fans are going crazy and are behind us, they give us another second wind.”
Brassard was pleased to see all-effort first-pairing defensemen Girardi and McDonagh rewarded on the score sheet. McDonagh was able to produce a dominant three-point night and the thrilling overtime winner.
“They’re our top pair. They give us 25 minutes every night,” Brassard said. “For them to go and get the tying goal and then the winning goal, it means a lot for our group. We know how important they are for our team. They’ve been solid all season long. It doesn’t surprise me.”
There’s a real desperation from this group to keep the momentum going. Brassard knows that Wednesday’s rivalry meeting with the Flyers and the upcoming four-game road trip that follows are all of tremendous importance at this stage of the season.
“It shows we want to be in (the playoffs) and have success,” Brassard said. “I thought we played really well on the road, but we really wanted to win tonight in front of our fans. It’s going to be a tough schedule for us the next couple games. We have a big game on Wednesday, and we’ll go from there. The intensity is picked up for all the games for the rest of the season. It’s going to be big.”
RICHARDS TAKES IT UP A NOTCH
Alternate captain Brad Richards embraced the challenge by taking on a much larger role in Monday’s victory, playing for 21:34. Vigneault called Richards’ performance “one of his best games on both ends of the rink.”
Richards broke a 10-game goalless drought with a second-period tipped-in effort. Getting on the score sheet energized the 33-year-old.
“Tonight, after he scored that goal, his play seemed to pick up,” Vigneault said. “He seemed to have more energy. I used him more and he did what he had to do to help us win this game.”
It was unusual to see Richards putting in a full effort in the defensive zone and battling for pucks with gusto. Usually, he’s lacked skating legs and the spirit required to be an effective player in all three zones. Richards admitted that his game dipped for about a week-and-a-half prior to Monday’s win.
“It was probably one of my better games of late,” Richards said. “I had about a week-and-a-half dip there where things were a struggle. I just wasn’t playing my game, and that’s how quick things can snowball with games coming every second night. I felt a lot better lately, but you need results, and to be on the ice for three goals and help create offense for a big win is very nice. I’ll sleep a lot better tonight.”
The Rangers and their fans need to see more of this version of Richards.
VIGNEAULT ADMITS MISTAKE IN PLAYING ILL STEPAN AND ST. LOUIS
Stepan and St. Louis did not participate in Monday’s morning skate, as both are battling the flu. Before Monday’s game, Vigneault met with both players and each expressed a desire to play despite not being anywhere near 100 percent.
After the game, Vigneault admitted that he should have rested both players, as neither had the required level of energy against the Coyotes.
“I made a mistake tonight,” Vigneault said. “I shouldn’t have played Step and Marty. I should have taken that out of their hands. I saw it. I saw them at 4:00. It didn’t look good, but they both said they wanted to play. At the end of the day, I’ve got to be better and take that out of their hands because they have no energy.”
St. Louis logged 11:04, while Stepan only played for 7:04. When they did play, Stepan and St. Louis’ skates were dragging. Vigneault said that he will give his team a day off on Tuesday. Rangers fans will hope that the duo will be healthy enough to get the green light to play against the rough and rugged Flyers on Wednesday.
LUNDQVIST HONORED FOR 302ND CAREER WIN
Before face-off, the Rangers honored goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for recently surpassing Mike Richter as the franchise wins leader.
A clearly emotional Lundqvist was joined by legendary netminders Richter and Ed Giacomin. Teammates Richards, Girardi and Marc Staal presented Lundqvist with a custom Gibson guitar.
Wife Therese held young daughter Charlise as the tributes were played over the enormous Gardenvision screen. What really got to Lundqvist was seeing his mother overcome with emotion. Parents Peter and Eva Lundqvist had flown in from Sweden, and it meant everything for Henrik to have to his family on hand for the occasion.
“Just to experience that, and what the Rangers did for me tonight, I’ll never forget it,” Lundqvist said. “I’ve been saying it for years, they’ve taken care of me so well since I’ve gotten here. What they did for me tonight was so special — for me to get an opportunity to share that with my parents, my wife and kid, it was hard not to get emotional. You see your mom cry when she walks out there, it was just a very special moment in my career.”
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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