Twenty-four hours later, everything was alright. At least that’s what a resounding 5-1 rout of the lowly Leafs did for the Rangers, who are very much alive depending on what Boston does versus Northeast rival Buffalo tonight. Indeed, the same Sabres who put a fifth consecutive postseason in jeopardy can help John Tortorella’s club, who’ll be watching closely to see if a team that clinched the division will give the effort. They are still fighting for second, trailing the Devils by a point with a regular season finale Sunday.
While that takes place in Beantown where the Yanks came back to take two of three from the Red Sox to kickoff the baseball season, all the Blueshirts can do is prepare for the first of the crucial home-and-home with the hated Flyers. It’s all on the line. Fate is in their hands. Now, we find out if Tort’s bunch can come through. In what’s been a challenging season, it’s hard to predict what will happen. Is this team good enough to win it’s last three, including two straight over a bitter rival with the final verdict if they make it Sunday in Philly? Expect the unexpected.
A day removed from getting exposed as Henrik Lundqvist termed it after getting the hook, the Rangers made quick work of a Toronto club that looks like its tanking. Too bad the Bruins own their pick. Over their last three games including the latest debacle, they’ve managed only two goals while allowing nine to the trio competing for the final two spots, assuming Montreal gets one point. They play Carolina today.
As for the Rangers, they wasted no time scoring on the first shift 21 seconds in when Erik Christensen responded to Tortorella’s challenge by banging home a Brandon Dubinsky feed in front for the first of two on the night. They’d tack on two more in the first but it easily could’ve been six or seven. If not for Jonas Gustavsson who played well despite an onslaught that saw him give up five on 32 shots, it would’ve been embarrassing. The Maple Leafs gave zero effort. With the exception of former Ranger Colton Orr instigating a fight versus Jody Shelley dating back to last season, it looked like Brian Burke’s guys who have the second worst record mailed it in. Some of the Ranger chances that followed bordered on absurd. The Monster made some great saves, robbing Marc Staal point blank along with a few other close calls.
Another opportunity just missed on a good power play.
Eventually in a period they registered 18 of 32 shots for the game, the Garden hosts tripled their lead when Vinny Prospal and Christensen struck 30 seconds apart. First, Michal Rozsival took a Mike Del Zotto pass behind his net and sprung Olli Jokinen for a breakaway. Gustavsson made the initial save on Jokinen’s backhand five-hole attempt but the rebound was slammed home by Prospal, who matched his jersey number becoming the second Ranger to hit 20. Marian Gaborik leads them with 41. As fans were celebrating, Christensen notched his second by converting a similar move off a Gaborik set up. It was Gabby’s 84th point of the season, setting a new career high. Brandon Dubinsky netted a secondary helper after forcing a turnover in the neutral zone. He assisted on a pair of goals, establishing a new career best with 43 points (19-24-43 in 67 GP).
After kind of a down second which Wade Redden noted though each netminder shined to keep the clubs off the scoreboard, the Leafs finally made it interesting when there was a Dion Phaneuf sighting. The big defenseman who they acquired from Calgary finally scored his first goal in Toronto colors to cut it to 3-1 with still 11:51 left. On a strong shift, a Phaneuf shot shattered Artem Anisimov’s stick resulting in the Rangers scrambling basically a man short. Eventually, Carl Gunnarsson and John Mitchell combined to work the puck to Phaneuf, who fired a halitzer from the right point past Lundqvist breaking the shutout.
With Toronto suddenly alive, the Blueshirts replied in timely fashion thanks to Jokinen, who’s looked alive the past few games since being put with Prospal and P.A. Parenteau. The trio were all in on the Jokester’s fourth as a Ranger. Parenteau and Prospal set up the wide open Finn, whose one-time slapshot blast went off Gustavsson’s glove and in. A jovial Jokinen raised his arms in triumph. And for once, he deserved it finishing with a goal and assist along with a game high eight shots. The second time in five games he had at least two points. If only the headcase was more consistent.
Earlier with the rout on, I told my Dad I wanted Aaron Voros to pop one along with Shelley. Okay. So, I was pushing it. Low and behold, here came Voros flying off the bench while Anisimov and Brandon Prust dominated down low. It was new fan favorite Prust who made a perfect pass to a streaking Voros in the slot and he did the rest, wiring one for his third of the season. Afterwards, he emphatically slammed his stick against the glass getting deserved congrats from excited teammates. As much as I criticized him last year which more had to do with the length of the contract than anything is as much as I’ve become a big fan of Voros34. The guy has been all heart this year. The goal was his second in four and fourth point in the last five. For the season, he’s played in 39 games with three goals and four assists while supplying a spark whenever his number’s been called. That deserves respect. Very appropriate that Voros finished it off in style.
Lundqvist bounced back as usual, finishing with 26 saves for win No.34 (176th career). What a great attitude he has. Now, he must give the Blueshirts the decided edge they should have versus Brian Boucher tomorrow and Sunday. Even more, the guys in front of him must play winning hockey. They do that and they’re in good shape. Not bad for a dead team.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Vinny Prospal, NYR (20th of season, assist, SOG, +2 in 16:15)
2nd Star-Olli Jokinen, NYR (goal, assist, 8 SOG, +2 in 13:30)
1st Star-Erik Christensen, NYR (2 goals-7, 8, 5 SOG, +2 in 16:48)