All the toughness that the New York Rangers had been lacking this season came out in an intense first period against the Washington Capitals tonight at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers, for the first time in a long time, were sticking up for their teammates instead of just standing by watching. Unfortunately, the increase in physicality would not result in a win for the Blueshirts, as they would fall 5-3 after a very sloppy end to the second period, and the same for most of the third period. The Rangers are now counting the days until Marian Gaborik returns, which could possibly be Thursday night.
The first period would be probably the most exciting twenty minutes of hockey the Rangers have played this season. Brian Boyle would continue his career year with his sixth goal of the season, on assists from Dan Girardi, who took the initial shot, and Sean Avery, who continues to put up points. The goal would come four minutes in, and a minute later, Brandon Dubinsky would engage Mike Green in a fight that ended up being more of a hugging match in the beginning, before Green would land more punches that Dubinsky. This pugilism came on the heels of a great save by Henrik Lundqvist on Mike Knuble.
The Washington Capitals would then tie the score on a powerplay goal by Brooks Laich. The penalty call was questionable in itself, because Jeff Schultz was already falling down when Erik Christensen made contact with him. This would not be the only bad call of the period, as the Rangers would then be assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, with no explanation given. Four minutes later, though, the Rangers would re-take the lead, once again, on a goal by Brian Boyle. This would be Boyle’s seventh goal of the season, after notching only four in 71 games last season.
As the first period wound down, the intensity would continue, including an intentional knee on knee collision between Matt Hendricks and Steve Eminger, leaving Eminger in pain on the ice. Michael Sauer would immediately drop the gloves and fight Hendricks but no major penalties would be given out—instead, Hendricks would be given two minutes for roughing (meaning nothing for the kneeing) and Sauer would get four minutes for roughing. I am not one to complain about officiating, but in this first period tonight it almost looked like the referees were trying to hand the game to Washington.
The second period would begin with a Capitals goal by John Erskine, one that Lundqvist should have easily stopped. It was a simple slap shot from the top of the circle with no obstruction in front. Lundqvist has no one to blame on that one but himself. But less that a minute later, the Rangers would get a goal from the most unlikeliest of sources. With Washington’s defense being trapped in the offensive zone, Derek Boogaard looked to break out, and he came streaking into the Capitals zone. With a defenseman trying to catch up, Boogaard put his head down and rifled a slap shot over the shoulder of Michael Neuvirth. This would be Boogaard’s first of the season, and first since the 2005/06 season (I was a freshman in high school), a span of 234 games. This was not a garbage goal, but actually a good shot, and again, one that the goaltender should have had.
Unfortunately, the Rangers could not end the period on a good note, and before the midway point of the frame, the Capitals had tied the score yet again on a goal from Mike Knuble, his first in 13 games. The Rangers would also be victims of yet another questionable call. Ruslan Fedotenko would drive to the net and nudge Neuvirth as the puck slid across the line, but after looking at the replay, not only was the puck sliding in before contact was made, but it was the Washington defenseman who actually pushed Fedotenko into the goaltender. There would be no penalty assessed on the play, which confuses me because if it was goaltender interference, he should have been penalized. But the call would be bad enough as the Rangers lost out on a chance to have the lead heading into the third period.
It took until almost eight minutes into the third for the tie score to be broken. After a misplayed puck by Michal Rozsival, and the rest of the Rangers standing around letting the Capitals have their way, Matt Hendricks would bury a shot top shelf with Lundqvist down, guarding the bottom half of the net. Though this would prove to be the game winner, the Rangers still had their share of chances. Fedotenko again would have an opportunity to make up for his waved off goal, when he came down on a breakaway and shot it high and wide of the net. Then, with the Rangers on a powerplay later in the period, a Brandon Dubinsky shot would bounce up and roll along the crossbar, before falling behind the net. In this game of inches, it was clear tonight just was not their night. Brooks Laich would then ice the game with an empty net goal with six seconds remaining in the game.
This is now two disappointing games in a row for the Rangers, one where the defense was good and the offense bad, and then vice versa. Gaborik will attempt to return Thursday, but overall, offense is not the Rangers main concern. Staal and Del Zotto continue to be brutal, and as a team, the Rangers are just giving opponents too many damn chances.