By Sean Hartnett
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Having extended their winning streak to six games, the Rangers are brimming with confidence. The surging Rangers are entering each game with a positive mindset and are executing at a high level night after night.
“We have a good feeling in the room here,” alternate captain Dan Girardi said. “We are not flying too high, but we are feeling good about our game and how we need to play it. We feel good coming up to games.”
Gone are the defensive-zone hiccups and forced passes that lead to turnovers. The Rangers have cleaned up their game and are now a smooth-running machine.
“We feel confident,” Girardi said. “It will help us make those little plays that when you’re squeezing the stick, might not happen. We are feeling good. We’re making those little plays, those skilled plays that will get us through the zone clean.”
On Sunday night, the Rangers kept the visiting Carolina Hurricanes from invading Cam Talbot’s crease. The Hurricanes did not register a shot attempt in the low slot. Talbot only needed to make 18 saves to record his third shutout of the season.
Following the Rangers’ 1-0 victory, Talbot admitted he did not have a busy workload.
“I didn’t really have to do a whole lot tonight,” Talbot said. “The guys in front of me did an unbelievable job and did most of the work for me.”
During the team’s season-high six-game winning streak, Talbot and No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist have provided outstanding play between the pipes. The Rangers lead the NHL with eight shutouts this season.
The Rangers have held opponents to 20-or-fewer shots on goal in three of the past four games. Their penalty-kill has nearly been perfect over the last seven games, going 15-for-16. Rangers’ defensemen have allowed few odd-man rushes and formed a wall around their goal.
As a whole, the Rangers are clicking in five-man units. There is good on-ice communication and teammates are anticipating each other’s movements.
This was demonstrated on the Rangers’ lone goal on Sunday night. Center Derek Stepan won a puck battle behind the net and fed a cutting Ryan McDonagh. The Rangers’ captain scored from close range at 4:10 of the first period.
Winger Chris Kreider came away impressed by Stepan’s effort on the goal. Stepan lifted the stick of Carolina center Victor Rask and quickly dished the puck to the tape of McDonagh’s blade.
“That’s vintage Stepan,” Kreider said. “There’s no other way to put it. It’s just a poised, efficient play. He pops the guy’s stick, gets himself in a good spot and makes it look a lot easier than it actually is.”
McDonagh said that he and Stepan have been working on their chemistry.
“You see that a lot from Step. It’s fun to be out there on the ice with him when he makes plays,” McDonagh said. “We’ve been talking. I like to kind of sneak around the blue line. He’s very good at getting his head up quick and listening and hearing. He said he heard me. He just didn’t expect me to be right in front of the net there.”
Lately, the Rangers are getting big offensive contributions from blueliners, most notably from McDonagh and an on-fire Kevin Klein.
“It’s really important to create offense and have the ‘D’ join the rush,” Stepan said. “They’re doing a really good job with it the past 10 games or so.”
GIRARDI HONORED TO PLAY 600TH GAME
Sunday night marked Girardi’s 600th career NHL game. It’s been a remarkable journey for the Rangers’ dependable and fearless blueliner.
“It means a lot,” Girardi said. “I came a long way from where I started. To play 600 games for the Blueshirts is something really special. A bunch of guys have done it, but it’s a great feeling and I’m just hoping for a bunch more.”
Having went undrafted at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Girardi had to earn an NHL contract the hard way. The 6-foot-1 defenseman worked his butt off in the Ontario Hockey League to capture the attention of Rangers scouts. Girardi developed a reputation for logging heavy minute totals and playing through the pain barrier.
Having impressed in minor-league Hartford, Girardi made his NHL debut on Jan. 27, 2007. From that point forward, Girardi has been one of the league’s most reliable defensemen. This reputation earned Girardi a spot at the 2012 NHL All-Star Game. The Rangers can count on Girardi playing close all 82 games each season, while blocking a ton of shots and winning countless defensive-zone battles.
RANGERS HONOR SLAIN NYPD OFFICERS
Prior to Sunday’s game, the Rangers held a moment of silence in memory of slain NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. Photographs of Ramos and Liu were shown on the MSG Jumbotron. What followed was a standing ovation that lasted close to a minute. The entire building stood and offered a rousing ovation as an NYPD color guard emerged from the tunnel prior to the national anthem.
Shortly after the national anthem, a good number of Rangers fans began chanting “NYPD, NYPD.” The Rangers applauded and tapped their sticks against the boards as a sign of respect for the fallen officers.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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