Rangers Open Trip With 4-1 Victory Over the Ducks
Prior to Wednesday's contest against the league-leading Ducks in Anaheim, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault stated that this was not only a "measuring stick game" for his club, but for the Ducks, as well, since New York is the defending Eastern Conference champion. That seemingly bold statement seemed omniscient several hours later when the Rangers skated their way to a hard-fought 4-1 victory over the Ducks at the Honda Center.
"I think you are constantly learning about your group and how they respond to different situations," Vigneault said post game. "Tonight, obviously, Anaheim came at us hard, but I thought we handled their pressure well. It was a very competitve game by two teams that battled real hard. We made them pay for a few of their mistakes."
The Rangers have now won three straight and 11 of their last 12 games, losing just once since December 8th. They will carry their month-long strong play into Los Angeles Thursday night for a Stanley Cup Final rematch with the defending-champion Kings.
Henrik Lundqvist excelled, stopping 24 of 25 shots Wednesday night, while Derick Brassard, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, and Dominic Moore scored the Ranger goals.
"I think we played with a lot of poise," noted Lundqvist, who personally has won 10 of his last 11 starts with a 1.62 GAA. "This was good for our confidence. That's a very good team, they are so consistent. So this was a big win for us."
The two teams battled for every inch of the ice all night long, with seemingly each pass and shot contested. The play was physical, yet clean, and the pace of the game was fast as both teams played to the high expectations which were set heading into this contest.
Brassard snapped a scoreless tie by ripping a left wing shot past Ilya Bryzglaov during a delayed penalty 9:10 into the second period, giving New York the all-important first goal of the match. Anaheim is unbeaten in regulation this season when scoring the game-opening goal, posting a 20-0-6 record in such games.
The first goal came after Anaheim's Matt Beleskey chopped Kevin Klein's stick in two, and the Rangers were able to set up a rush from their own end of the ice with Lundqvist on the bench for a sixth attacker. J.T. Miller---who played an exceptionally strong game Wednesday---calmly held on to the puck after skating over the Ducks' blue line and then zipped a cross-ice pass to Brassard, who let fly with a blast from the top of the circle that found the back of the net for Brassard's 11th goal of the season, and third in as many games.
"Brass just stepped on the ice and J.T heard him yell from the bench, and it turned out to be a real important goal," stated Vigneault.
That goal was the only one for either team through two periods of play, with New York holding a 19-18 advantage in shots, and both goalies extremely sharp. The surprise here is that Bryzgalov played so well. He entered this game--his third since signing with the Ducks as a free agent--with a bloated 6.40 GAA and ugly .789 save percentage, not to mention a lifetime 2-8-0 record against the Rangers; but he made several big-time saves when the Rangers found their way around the stingy Ducks defense.
Bryzgalov robbed Derek Stepan's slam-dunk from the doorstep, off a nifty Marty St. Louis feed, making a quick pad save late in the second period; and also alertly positioned himself to deny Dan Boyle's one-timer from right wing after a slick pass from behind the goal line by Miller.
At the other end of the ice Lundqvist was real good between the pipes, as well, in particular for a stretch of several minutes after Brassard had scored and the Ducks pushed back in response. He also twice denied Rene Bourque on neat deflections--once in the opening period and once in the second.
"Henrik made the key saves when they had the momentum in the game, and he's obviously a big part of oyur team because when he plays well we have a chance to win any game," noted Zuccarello. "I think this was a team effort today. We were blocking shots and we were sacrificng ourselves. It was a solid, solid team effort today."
The Rangers doubled their lead early in the third period on Nash's team-leading 25th goal. Anaheim defenseman Sami Vatanen tried to clear the puck out of his zone, but sent it up the middle of the ice where Klein flagged it down. Klein then settled the puck and took a slap shot that was deflected by Nash and past Bryzgalov, with the puck bouncing off of him and over the goal line as Brassard swung and missed at it in mid air, at 2:32.
Ryan McDonagh and Stepan took back-to-back penalties midway through the third, and though the Rangers killed off the first to their captain, they could not escape a second consecutive minor. Ten seconds after Stepan was whistled for a delay of game penalty, Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin fired a slap shot which glanced off Carl Hagelin and slipped past Lundqvist to cut New York's lead to 2-1 at 10:10.
However Zuccarello hammered a left-wing shot past Bryzgalov at the 14:27 mark of the third to restore the two-goal lead. The goal was Zuccarello's seventh of the season and sent the Rangers on their way an important win to start this three-game California road trip.
"The way we responded after their goal, that was impressive," said Lundqvist. "We really stepped up; and that third goal was really big, and just killed their momentum."
Dominic Moore found the empty net with 2:14 remaining in the final period of play after Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau pulled Bryzgalov early, trailing by a pair.
The Rangers will try and keep their impressive roll going Thursday in L.A. before closing out the trip in San Jose against the Sharks on Saturday night.