Latest posts by Ray Sarlo (see all)
It was a barn burner in New York City.
The Calgary Flames came into Madison Square Garden on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon on fire, having won three in a row. Looking for a fourth, they weathered the Rangers’ storm early, withstanding a shot attempt deficit of 12-5 in the first 5 minutes. The Flames were rewarded for their perseverance, drawing first blood after a Dan Girardi tripping penalty gave the Flames the first power play of the game. Henrik Lundqvist made an ill-fated pass down the middle of the ice on a clearing attempt which culminated in a Dougie Hamilton shot from the point that deflected off Nick Holden in front. Lundqvist was visibly frustrated after the goal. He is always quite animated when his teammate deflects the puck by him and one can imagine he would want that turnover back.
The Rangers equalized on their own power play nearly 2 minutes later. Rick Nash deflected a pass from Derek Stepan on the half-boards and out-muscled Mark Giordano in front to put the rebound past Brian Elliott. That’s the Rangers’ second straight game with a power play goal after going 0-for-15 on the man advantage in the previous five games.
The Flames came out in the second period and controlled the play for the first 10 minutes, dominating the Rangers 15-3 in shot attempts. On numerous occasions, the Flames pinned the Rangers in their own zone and Lundqvist had to stand tall, stopping deflections and managing quick Calgary puck movement. Henrik’s best save of the period came at the 7:44 mark when Dougie Hamilton had yet another shot deflected from the point. The shot was corralled by Matthew Tkachuk who had a point-blank scoring opportunity, only to be stopped by a sprawling Lundqvist. At this point, the Flames’ game plan was clear – get shots and bodies to the net often.
The second period ended scoreless as the Rangers regained their composure and were able to control more of the play as the period wore on. Rick Nash deflected a point shot by Ryan McDonagh past Brian Elliott in the dying seconds the of the period, but the puck did not cross the line before the game time expired. This was yet another example of hockey being a game of inches, as the puck was roughly one foot away from the goal line when the buzzer sounded.
In the third period, the Rangers picked up where they left off, applying pressure early. Michael Grabner cashed in for the Rangers, giving them their first lead of the game. Brady Skjei’s beautiful slap pass from the half-boards through the Flames defense found Grabner wide-open with a gaping net in front of him, leaving Elliott with no chance to make the save.
The game descended into a fire wagon brand of hockey as the Rangers and Flames traded odd-man rushes. The Flames ultimately prevailed as they tied the game on a Troy Brouwer goal. The Flames’ first line marched into the Rangers’ zone 3-on-2. Sean Monahan made a quick drop pass to Johnny Gaudreau who attempted a nifty toe-drag shot through Kevin Klein. Klein blocked the shot, but the puck went directly to an open Brouwer for an easy tap-in past Lundqvist. Lundqvist was fooled by the Gaudreau shot and was unable to make it across to challenge Brouwer.
Things got interesting quickly as Pavel Buchnevich participated in his first NHL fight with Kris Versteeg. Buchnevich took exception to some stick work by Versteeg and the two dropped the gloves. It ended as soon as it started as Buchnevich lost his balance and fell, causing the linesmen to break it up. Versteeg was ejected from the game after receiving a game misconduct for his jersey coming off during the fight. Versteeg amusingly waved to the fans as he made his way to the locker room.
Chris Kreider spiced the game up even more by scoring his 21st of the season to give the Rangers the lead yet again. Mika Zibanejad made a pass to Kreider at the Rangers’ blue line and that was all the help Kreider needed as he flew down the left wing, cutting in, using Dennis Wideman as a screen, snapping a wrist shot far side on Brian Elliott. Elliott’s body language indicated frustration with Wideman, and the slow motion replay showed Kreider’s shot hitting Wideman’s skate. The Flames defenseman seemed to be on his back foot with Kreider bearing down on him, and Kreider used that as an opportunity for a quick, surprising shot.
The fireworks continued when Klein executed a thunderous hit on Lance Bouma right in front of the Rangers’ bench. Micheal Ferland came to his teammate’s defense and fought the willing Klein in a good scrap that Ferland won with a slight edge.
The Rangers bought some insurance when Matt Stajan made a poor pass off the boards in the far right corner in the Flames’ zone. The puck found its way to J.T. Miller right in front of Elliot, who probably expected a shot. Using great offensive awareness, Miller instead passed it to Jesper Fast all alone in the slot. Fast blasted a one-timer top shelf, blocker side to give the Rangers a two-goal lead.
The game wore on at a fast pace with the Flames and Rangers trading chances until Girardi’s defensive warts flared up yet again. After the puck squirted free from a scrum in the Rangers’ corner, Dan Girardi panicked under pressure and shuffled the puck right to an open Mikael Backlund at the top of the right faceoff circle. Backlund fired a shot that rookie Matthew Tkachuk managed to get a piece of as he skated through the slot. He brilliantly deflected the puck over Lundqvist’s glove and that made things interesting with 7:27 remaining in the game.
The Rangers hunkered down for the remainder of the game and weathered the Flames’ attempts to equalize. The Rangers defended well and got a bit lucky on some close calls that missed the net. On any shots that managed to get through, Lundqvist was there to make the save and manage the shot so as not to give the Flames any rebound opportunities. With the goalie pulled, the Flames spent the final 1:30 in the Rangers’ zone trying to find a shooting lane, peppering Lundqvist with impunity when they had one. In the end, it was the Swedish netminder who stood tall and the Rangers won a thriller 4-3.
The Rangers will look to continue their recent success when they face the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday at home. The Ducks are tied with the Edmonton Oilers for second in the Pacific Division and have had middling success as of late, going 5-3-2 in their last ten games.