PENALTY SHOT SINKS RANGERS; PLAYOFFS BECKON

Gionta scores on an OT penalty shot (Gionta beats Talbot in OT (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

Gionta scores on an OT penalty shot (Gionta beats Talbot in OT (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

One team had plenty to play for.  The other did not.  If you were to watch tonight’s Rangers-Canadiens game, you would have thought the New Yorkers were the ones with their lives on the line.  With the exception of a few spurts and the stellar play of Montreal goalie Carey Price, the Canadiens were outplayed by a Rangers team that wisely rested some key members to have them ready for Thursdays opening round game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Canadiens Captain Brian Gionta took advantage of a penalty shot opportunity called when Raphael Diaz tripped him up on a clear breakaway in OT.  Gionta came in, deked and while at the top of the crease, put a backhand top shelf behind Cam Talbot.  The win kept the Canadiens home ice hopes alive as they now have 100 points, 1 more than the Tampa Bay Lightning who will wrap up their season Sunday afternoon against the Capitals.

Spirited Battle

The Rangers played a pretty solid game in that the effort was there from start to finish.  Talbot was spectacular and was matched save for save by Price.  The Rangers power play, while they didn’t score, did generate some opportunities.  The penalty killing continues to shine having killed off 48 of the last 51 times shorthanded.  Was good to see that the Rangers kept up their intensity in a game where they could have easily coasted through.  The times the game got feisty, the Rangers foot soldiers – Boyle, Dom Moore, Dorsett, Carcillo, Pouliot and even Brassard – answered the bell.  This will only be ratcheted up against a physical Flyers team.  The only concerns were that there were opportunities to bury the biscuit into the basket but Price came up big.  Sometimes you have to hand it to the opposition and move on.  The Rangers are moving on.

Rested & Ready

The Rangers wisely decided to hold Ryan McDonagh out for the season finale as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury.  In addition, head coach Alain Vigneault also rested Dan Girardi & inserted Talbot into the net to rest Henrik LundqvistChris Kreider remains out with no timetable to return.

In a surprise move, Marty St. Louis was also given the night off.  Justin Faulk emerged from the mothballs and made his first appearance in the lineup since December.  Faulk had been a healthy scratch the last 41 games.  Interesting note in that Derek Stepan became the first Ranger since Brian Leetch (from 1993-97) to not miss a game over a four year period.

The Second Season Beckons

The post season is upon the Rangers.  After a sluggish start to the season, the pieces are falling into place.  On the plus side, Lundqvist is on the top of his game, Stepan has been on fire and has a solid chemistry with Nash which could be deadly in the playoffs and for the most part the team is relatively healthy.

The trade of Michael del Zotto for Kevin Klein has been a welcome relief as has the addition of Raphael Diaz to add depth to an already solid defensive core. The Zuccarello-Brussard-Pouliot line has been exciting to watch and provides a solid alternative to when the top line is sputtering. On the down side, there has to be concern over Marty St. Louis’s lack of goal scoring and the health of Chris Kreider.

The Flyers have injury concerns themselves.  Goalie Steve Mason was injured in Saturday afternoon’s game against the Penguins.  He left the game as a precaution with an upper body injury.  He is the reason why the Flyers have played as well as they have this season.  If he is out or not up to far the Flyers are dead in the water.

Prediction

This will be a hard fought series as both teams are pretty evenly matched. The teams split the season series 2-2 , with the home team winning each time.  For that reason alone, the Rangers will win in 7.

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