Rangers Finish First in Second City

RANGERS 1, BLACKHAWKS 0 (OT)

In the song, “Chicago,” which is all about the “Second City,” it’s described as a “Toddlin’ Town,” which it is.

But, as far as the visiting Rangers are concerned, it also could be termed a terrific village for victories. At least that was the case Friday night at United Center.

Alain Vigneault brought his club wounded from Winnipeg to the Windy City wondering if his club could make it two straight wins minus Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich who total a bucket full of goals for New York.

Facing Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane & Company was further challenging when one considers that the Blackhawks are first in the Western Conference and lose at home as infrequently as alligators cross State Street.

But — as the hockey sages say — A.V.’s skaters “found a way,” otherwise defined by a 1-0 victory with Antti Raanta in goal making like Mandrake The Magician — on skates.

If the Fine Finn didn’t pull off a virtuoso performance then “super-sensational” would be the better description capped by defenseman Nick Holden‘s overtime score.

OVERVIEW: There were “What’s going on?” murmurs when coach Alain Vigneault chose Raanta to start for New York in back-to-back  games rather than employing Henrik Lundqvist, the reigning King of the Crease.

But A.V. wants to win hockey games and chose to go with the hot puck-stopper rather than the popular choice. Raanta foiled all 26 shots for his first shutout of the season. He also has placed himself in an excellent position to make it three starts in a row when the Rangers host New Jersey Sunday night at The Garden.

WHAT WENT RIGHT:

  1. BARRICADING THE BLACKHAWKS: Chicago’s skaters tossed everything but the kitchen sink and refrigerator at Raanta in the first period and he merely repulsed his former teammates as if he had boarded up the six-feet-wide by four-feet-high goal. He did ditto on the Chicago shooters in the second period and more ditto in the third and extra session.
  1. NO HOLDENS  BARRED: It’s becoming borderline routine to note that one of GM Jeff Gorton‘s best acquisitions has been defenseman Holden who has more than adequately replaced Keith Yandle as an offensive as well as defensive force. Nick has a knack for knocking in goals at clutch moments. Just ask the Blackhawks.
  1. A FAST LEARNER: Jesper Fast is true to his name, acting like a galloping-skating ghost while winning virtually every puck battle. He spent the night out-skating opponents and creating turnovers. It’s becoming more and more apparent that Jesper is just beginning to move out from under the radar.
  1. GRABBING THE REINS: Returning from his condolence call in Europe, Michael Grabner has reaffirmed his status as one of the most enthusiastic surprises of the season. No one forced more turnovers, helping his mates hold on to the 0-0 tie until Holden broke the ice in OT.
  1. A.V. MAKES A-1 MOVE: When it appeared that Chicago took a 1-0 lead in the third period, the Rangers coach challenged the goal and won his case.

THREE “BESTS”:

  1. BEST DEFENSIVE PAIRING: Captain Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.
  1. BEST SAVE: Relatively early in the first period Raanta robbed Patrick Kane with a sprawling stop.

Bill Pidto, Ron Duguay and Steve Valiquette dissect Antti Raanta's shutout performance, diving into his save on Chicago's 2-on-1 chance.

  1. BEST OFFENSIVE MOVE: In overtime Derek Stepan found Holden streaking into the Chicago zone, hit him with a perfect pass enabling Nick to roof the rubber over goalie Scott Darling.

VIGNEAULT’S UPCOMING CHALLENGE:

Does the coach keep healthy King Henrik on the bench for an unusual third straight game? Or does he simply do the more practical thing and go with his winner, Raanta?

MAVEN’S CHOICE: Pile up the points with the hot goalie until he loses. Ergo: Raanta against the Devils — Sunday 7 PM, MSG Network.

We’ll see if the coach agrees with The Maven. He should.