by Corey Chatelain
Oh my word… what have I just witnessed? I’m not quite sure what I just witnessed but it was about as good a hockey game as I’ve ever seen the New York Rangers ever play. It was absolutely incredible from start to finish. Hitting, checking, skating, scoring, good goaltending, penalties, hits, getting scorers ejected, this game had it all except for “Girls Gone Wild,” but I digress…
Think the Mongols across the Russian steppe, Alexander through Asia Minor, Dump through an expletive rant filled with a year’s supply of “morons.” The Rangers started out the game with zest, zeal, jump in their step, determination, drive & other positive adjectives I can’t think of right now. From the opening faceoff until the end of the game save for a moment here & there, the Rangers played about as perfect a playoff game could be played.
The Madison Square Garden crowd expecting their 1st playoff win after a near decade long drought was rewarded & rewarded kindly. The 1st goal was scored by Michael Nylander after only 32 seconds into the game. Jaromir Jagr picked the puck up in the neutral zone, made a quick little nifty move to gain space, elude the Thrashers’ defense skating into the offensive zone, then slipping a pass to #92, biding his time & then ripping a nice wrist shot past Kari Let-one-in (Lehtonen). Good evening, how are you, 1-0 Rangers before the MSG crowd had even sat down.
And from there… it only got worse for the Atlanta Thrashers. The Rangers of new skated with purpose from there on out. They forechecked like demons, they harassed, harried, hurried, and were general nuisances in their offensive zone all night long. They found time, they found space, they found all the dimensions of the physical universe to their advantage. Nylander made it 2-0 after a slight scramble in front of Lehtonen, who in trying to kick clear a shot knocked it to Nylander who ripped another shot pass Kari with JJ causing trouble in front. 2-0, Rangers & the Thrashers on the back heel only 10 minutes in.
From there, the 1st period continued with the Rangers finding all the space they could ever want, dipsying, doodling & skating around like the Ice Capades with several rushes that had very skillful & almost taunting moves. Thomas Pöck had an especially exciting double move where he deked twice & looked to be on his way to a goal only to have his shot saved but had made 2 moves that made Atlanta defensemen look preposterously silly. For a split second it was like watching vintage Oilers circa 1984.
Marek Malik even got into the act walking in from the point & trying to pull of a spectacular backhand high shelf wrister that just missed but was rewarded several moments later when after more good board work from Jagr, the puck found it’s way to Nylander who dropped it to Duh-lik who launched a shot… and gosh darnit if it didn’t find it’s way in, 3-0 Rangers & I’m pounding beer to keep up with all the goals. The much maligned Marek Malik despite the year in, year out über +/- total, with only his 2nd career playoff goal. People are celebrating, woodland animals are clapping furry paws in approval & even Stealing Society let’s a smile creep across his face!
The Rangers finish out the period strong albeit with a slight wobble & some penalties taken to end the initial period but all in all, from my point of view, the 1st period was probably the best overall period played by the Rangers in the entire season & one of the best periods I’ve seen any team play in a long, long time.
The 2nd period started out with Atlanta sort of taking the play to the Rangers but these are not the Rangers of recent memory. They stood their ground, rode out the patches of spotty play & steadily took the game’s flow back to the Thrashers. Atlanta continued their attempt at a more physical style of play but as in the previous 2 games, their attempts at hits only seemed to energize the Rangers & create lanes & space for Ranger scoring opportunities. Couple the Thrashers trying to play a hit-everything-that-moves style of play & an energized MSG crowd & it only was a recipe for disaster for Atlanta.
After the initial flurry at the start of the 2nd period, the Rangers, as stated above, slowly started to reassert their command over the game & continued their demon-like forechecking & neutral zone harassing & steady play in their defensive zone. The teams then traded powerplays & after a short period where Henrik Lundqvist, the King, made a couple of good saves, an Atlanta attack was cleared to Sean Avery outside the New York defensive zone who then crossed to Ryan Callahan cross ice through the neutral zone on a rush. Callahan skated 2 on 1 with Shanahan but decided to shoot himself & unleashed an absolute beauty of a wrister, far post against Lehtonen & put the Rangers up 4-0. Let it be said that I believe Ryan Callahan is going to be a stud in the future & that the Rangers, I believe, have finally found themselves a young forward who can not only throw his weight around but chip in regularly on the offensive end as well.
As evidence of the above statement, Ryan Callahan found himself spending some time on the 2nd power play unit later on in the period. After an exchange of penalties & power plays, the Rangers 2nd powerplay unit was in action & Sean Avery again did really good work stopping an attempted clearance just outside the Thrashers blueline & skated in. Avery then dropped a pass back to Michal Rozsival back to the point who on this night, like every other Ranger, was playing with so much confidence, let a blast form the point go. 5-0, Rangers & the rout was truly & well on. Initially it looked like Rosy had scored the powerplay goal but it was in fact, Ryan Callahan doing his laudable work, showing his hockey smarts & working to the front of the net who came up with the deflection to put it past Let-one-in. Cue MSG delirium & looks of shock & awe on Hartley & his Thrashers.
The remainder of the 2nd was played out much like the rest of the period with the Rangers, not content to sit back with a 5-0 lead, continuing to forecheck & harass the Thrashers. The 2nd ended with some chippiness, some recipes & phone numbers exchanged, dinner reservations & bah mitvahs planned & oh by the way a few choice expletives & dirty language may or may not have been used. The jury is still out.
The 3rd period saw more of the same from the 1st two with hitting & some open play flowing from end to end, albeit with the ice seemingly tilted in the Rangers’ favor. The Thrashers seemed to have a glint of hope when Jed “Stone Hands Captain” Ortmeyer was sent to the box for tripping at 2:44 of the 3rd but barely one minute into the powerplay a double hit near the Rangers bench on Atlanta’s scorer & star, Ilya Kovalchuk finished off by Mr. Shiznit himself, Sean Avery, caused the Russian star to let his frustration get the best of him. After the puck was dumped into the Rangers zone, Ilya skated straight for Avery & it was just a matter of exchanging Pokémon cards & Kovalchuk & Avery were scrapping in a way that only playoff hockey intensity can cause. Cue subdued bedlam on the ice. Several players, including Keith “My Last Name Sounds Like The Sound A Flat Tire Makes” Tkachuk, Paul Mara for the Rangers & Eric Belanger for the Thrashers & of course, His Peskiness, Sean Avery all receiving misconducts & spending either ample time in the box or being able to visit the showers for an early bath.
Following that little skirmish, a period of more occasional end to end play occurred but as before, the Rangers had the bulk of the play carried in their favor. That led up to an incident where Ryan Callahan, who doing his best impersonation of Sean Avery drew a penalty by being a pest driving through the neutral zone caused a powerplay for the Rangers. Just seconds into the man advantage, the Rangers were up 6-0. Matt Cullen on a simple up ice rush into the zone just flicked it wide to Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan then showed why sometimes the simple option is the best- SHOOT THE DAMN PUCK. Shanahan just flip a wrister, albeit a hard one towards the net. The shot deflects off Shane Hnidy & past Lehtonen. 6-0, MSG explodes again, Thrasher heads drop, songbirds burst into song, golden rays of sunshine break through clouds, long forgotten girlfriends call you on the phone & that baseball card once misplaced happens to turn up & all is right with the world…
But the joy didn’t stop there! Cue more of the same- the Rangers skating with energy & purpose & forcing the Atlanta Thrashers into panicky play. Yes, the Thrashers got the odd chance here & there but all in all, the Rangers continued to take the bulk of the game to Atlanta & by far limited the Thrashers’ chances to outside shots & the sometimes hoped for rebound put back, of which on this night, always seemed to bounce in the Rangers’ favor & away from an Atlanta forward and/or to a Rangers defensemen or the sideboards.
An episode of mention during this period was a quasi-ruckus started by Atlanta tough guy, Eric Boulton looking to take out his & his teammates’ frustration on the Rangers and/or cuddly puppies, failed to get strongman Colton Orr to fall into a fight but instead got himself & Michal Rozsival sent to the box for crosschecking Rosy & Rosy retaliating for the heinous act.
About 4.5 to 5 oz. of a Budweiser Select after that (approx. 2 minutes to the lay person), the Rangers found themselves on another powerplay. Atlanta forward Slava Kozlov was penalized for elbowing after a moment of madness where he mistakenly thought he was Claude Lemieux & Petr Prucha was Kris Draper.
With youngster Ryan Callahan & top line center, Michael Nylander both sitting on hat tricks, the accolade fell to Michael Nylander on the Rangers powerplay. Again off a simple offensive zone entry rush, Michael Nylander skated over the blueline, dumped it right to Jaromir Jagr who took a step, fed the puck to Michal Rozsival who skated up, looked to shot with Atlanta expecting that very play but then passed out to the right circle back to Nylander who let a crisp shot go, that hit Lehtonen & trickled over the goal line for an incredible 7-0 margin.
The game had long been decided, however, the Rangers of new impressively continued to skate, hustle & generally outwork Atlanta for the entire game. Enough can not be said about the top line of Hossa, Nylander & Jagr’s play. They at times tonight toyed with Atlanta looking at one point to be putting on a trick skating clinic. AND1 on ice, if you will. Also, kudos, accolades, blue ribbons, gold stars & general rounds of applause also go out to Ryan Callahan & Sean Avery who pestered, harried & were bothers to the Thrashers all night long, getting the Thrashers out of their game & being psyched out mentally all night long. You can see with each game that Ryan Callahan is playing & skating with more & more confidence. It’s fun to watch.
In conclusion, the Rangers performance tonight was about as dominant performance as a team has given that I’ve seen in a long time. Yes, there were moments were it looked like Atlanta may score & grab some momentum but honestly, there have been very few, if any, truly perfect games ever played in sports but at times tonight the Rangers truly looked “great.” They need to build on this win tonight, take the confidence & determination & carry it over not only the rest of the series with the Thrashers but hopefully not only beyond but far beyond!
Quick turnaround for the Rangers as they look to wrap up the series with Atlanta tomorrow night. Hopefully it’ll be 4 & done & they can take a few days off to rest up any wounds & injuries they may have. Blair Betts seemed to be hurting with a hand injury, as did Marcel Hossa look to be gimpy with a knee knock. Here’s to them both being able to play 100%.
In my opinion, same lineup, why change now? Raise the anchor, hoist the main sail, steady as she goes… the Rangers Pirate Bandwagon continues to roll, er (arr!) sail on!…