‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers played with fire throughout Game 4, but didn’t get burned. New York took a whopping total of eight penalties, the majority of which were undisciplined penalties in the offensive zone.
They survived because their penalty-kill is executing with supreme confidence. The Rangers’ penalty killers are clogging shooting lanes, willingly blocking shots and winning key defensive battles along the boards. Brian Boyle, Carl Hagelin, Dominic Moore, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal… the list goes on. These selfless penalty killers have been outstanding. Over their past nine games, the Rangers’ penalty killers have successfully killed 29 of 30 power plays.
“The P.K. was really great,” winger Mats Zuccarello said. “Guys were sacrificing.”
When overtime began, the Habs piled on the pressure. Benoit Pouliot took an absentminded holding-the-stick penalty 30 seconds into overtime. All-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist continued to stand tall. Despite all the venom directed at the refs by the Garden crowd, the Blueshirts were doing everything possible to hand over a Game 4 victory to the Habs.
This was a game that Montreal should have won, but the acrobatic and unflappable Lundqvist and the Rangers’ incredible penalty-killing efforts kept dragging the momentum back in the Blueshirts’ favor.
“We put ourselves behind the eight-ball a few times by taking .. I think it was five penalties 200 feet from our net,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. “We’re going to have to do a much better job than that. But give credit to our killers and our goaltender. They did a real good job. The goal they had on the power play was deflected, but for the most part, I thought we did a pretty good job killing those penalties. But we’re going to have to be better than that.”
MAGICAL ST. LOUIS LIFTS RANGERS TO WITHIN ONE VICTORY OF PUNCHING TICKET TO STANLEY CUP FINAL
As the Rangers fought tooth and nail to keep the score level in overtime, a hero suddenly emerged.
On the 20th anniversary of iconic captain Mark Messier inspiring the Blueshirts to an unforgettable Game 6 victory over the Devils following his “we will win” guarantee, a current living legend in a Rangers sweater named Martin St. Louis propelled the Broadway Blueshirts to a dramatic victory that New Yorkers will never forget.
These are the moments you remember when you talk about a “team of destiny.” The Rangers have the look of a team that is on the path to replicate their magical run of 1994 that brought joy to the streets of Manhattan.
St. Louis scored the 3-2 overtime winner that sent the Garden into ecstatic delight. It was a real sniper’s goal, as St. Louis slid the puck through the tightest of openings over Montreal netminder Dustin Tokarski’s shoulder. All night, St. Louis was focusing on that spot and Tokarski was winning an ongoing duel.
St. Louis had finally solved Tokarski in the most sensational fashion, lifting the Rangers within one victory of reaching their first Stanley Cup Final since Messier, Leetch, Graves and Richter ended New York’s 54-year Stanley Cup drought. Had St. Louis been born earlier, he would have fit right in with that group. St. Louis has the unrelenting heart of a lion and an unrivaled coolness under pressure that makes him one of the most respected players in the league. He is all inspiration all the time, and a living legend in the truest sense of the word.
St. Louis’ game-winning shot was one that he practices over and over during practice. The never-satisfied 38-year-old stays late after practice, shooting hundreds of pucks, constantly perfecting his aim and release.
“The goal he scored tonight is exactly what you see him practice every time he’s on the ice, like a hundred pucks,” Vigneault said. “He’s trying to put it right there. Made obviously a great shot on that goal.”
Hagelin, who had been the Rangers’ most dominant player in Game 4, unleashed the cross-ice pass into St. Louis’ path. A rush of anticipation sent Rangers fans out of their seats and St. Louis proceeded to send the crowd into wild celebrations.
“He has been great for us ever since he got here,” Hagelin said. “He shows a lot of tenacity and emotion every time he steps on the ice. He is very easy to play with and a great teammate.”
St. Louis’ confidence has become contagious around the locker room. Throughout all the years under previous head coach John Tortorella, the Rangers never had a personality like St. Louis whose natural confidence galvanized a locker room.
“It’s our turn, it’s our turn. We did it tonight,” St. Louis told NBC analyst Pierre McGuire. “We’ve got to close it.”
His determination, his drive, his belief — it’s the stuff of legend. Under Tortorella, St. Louis led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the promised land and delivered a Cup in 2004. Now, it appears his wise, veteran presence might play a huge part in replicating images of 1994 in Vigneault’s first season behind the Rangers’ bench. Every player on the Rangers is looking at St. Louis and soaking up everything he brings to the table.
“I’m learning a lot of things watching him every day,” Derick Brassard said. “I feel like at our practice, he’s shooting so many pucks. I’m not surprised he scored tonight.”
St. Louis has extended his playoff point streak to a career-best six consecutive games, scoring four goals and notching three assists in the process.
“He’s a really special player,” Brassard said. “He came up big for our team. He brings so much for our locker room. We’re just happy for him.”
BRASSARD DELIVERS IN FIRST GAME BACK
Up until Game 4, Brassard only played 35 seconds of the Eastern Conference finals due to injury. Brassard’s been itching for the chance to return and made up for lost time immediately as he scored the go-ahead goal with less than a minute remaining in the second period. His return to game action was particularly important as first-line center Derek Stepan was sidelined due to jaw surgery.
Dan Girardi sprung Brassard with a long-distance pass and Brassard wound up to hammer an unstoppable shot past Tokarski.
“It took me a couple of shifts to get into it,” Brassard said. “It’s pretty easy when you play here; the atmosphere is great. I was happy to get back out there with my teammates.
Brassard won 75 percent of his face-offs and proved why the Rangers undoubtedly missed his big-game presence after he missed nearly all of Games 1, 2 and 3.
As the series shifts to Montreal for Game 5, Brassard says the pressure is clearly on the Canadiens.
“The pressure is on them,” Brassard said.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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