In the old days, they called it “Fire Wagon Hockey,” which meant playing the game at the fastest possible pace.
This season “Fire Wagon Hockey,” — Rangers-style — has been given a contemporary m.p.h. that sometimes appears to exceed any reasonable speed limits.
Whatever you want to call it, what the Blueshirts are doing is racing to the top of the National Hockey League and they showed why last night at The Garden. From game-to-game, it’s a different speed but the results invariably are positive.
Their 3-2 shootout vanquishing of the New Jersey Devils was not totally unexpected since they had blanked the Garden Staters a week earlier, 5-0.
But this time, the desperate visitors had Alain Vigneault‘s skaters on the ropes but, once again, the New Yorkers prevailed on the pulled-goalie move to tie the count and take it to the shootout conclusion.
The cast of heroes varies from game-to-game, although lately the chief protagonists — Henrik Lundqvist and Mats Zuccarello — have returned for curtain calls with Derek Stepan and Kevin Hayes among the top supporting actors.
OVERVIEW: Like a metronome, the Rangers tick off the victories whether they’re on the road or at home. The well-balanced roster simply outmatches a majority of the opponents as happened vis-a-vis the visiting Devils. Cory Schneider played well in goal for the visitors, but when the chips were down King Henrik topped him in the shootout. If a successful counterattack is necessary, the Blueshirts proved capable of that and did so on the late third-period tying goal. Ergo: the positive beat goes on.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- CONSUMMATE COUNTERATTACK: For a time, it appeared that Schneider was ready to “steal” a game in goal for New Jersey with a 1-0 lead after two periods, but the Rangers were not to be denied. The irrepressible Chris Kreider broke the schneid and after New Jersey went ahead yet again, Stepan came through to force overtime and the ultimately successful shootout.
- KINGLY CONQUEST: Once upon a time when the Battle of the Hudson featured Martin Brodeur wearing the Devils colors, it was Henrik vs. Marty. Since Schneider succeeded Brodeur, it has been a fascinating battle between Lundqvist and Schneider. Henrik got the nod by out-dueling his foe in the skills competition — goaltending variety.
- MASTERY OF THE SHOOTOUT: At the expense of being redundant, Zuccarello has turned into a veritable virtuoso of the shootout, scoring again and setting up the winner by Hayes. It’s the total package; Lundqvist makes the saves setting the stage for the lamplighters.
- DEREK STEPPING UP: Among the core forwards, Stepan seems more reliable than ever. His tying goal with 1:13 remaining in regulation symbolizes his night in and night out kind of game. He obviously steps up against New Jersey. He has tallied 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists in 30 career games) against the Devils.
- DETOURING DESPERATION: Slumping over the past weeks, coach John Hynes‘ skaters were desperate for a victory and played a solid game, determined to capture two points. Nevertheless, the Rangers produced that little extra when required to beat a team that gave all it had to leave with a W.
WHAT THEY SAID:
- ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “From the beginning, we’ve been winning as a team. Call it balanced scoring, balanced defending or strong goaltending; it’s built on a team basis. We came back twice against a real, strong goaltender and team that knows how to defend and got it done in a shootout.”
- DEREK STEPAN: “My goal came about because of a heck of a play by Mac (Ryan McDonagh). When it’s a six-on-five situation, which it was, you have to make a special play to score and Ryan certainly helped make it happen.”
- HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “I felt like we deserved it the way we played in the third — with a lot more energy. You can never give up; you have to believe and the way the guys continued to work in the third when we got down a goal was impressive. It builds character in our room. Never give up.”
- RYAN MCDONAGH: “On the tying goal I didn’t think I’d get the shot through. Then I looked off to the side, and that’s when Step found some free ice and took advantage.”
- REPORTER SAM STERN: “The Rangers demonstrated that they can win games in any fashion. Elite teams adapt and that’s what the Blueshirts have done so far this season.”
NEXT GAME: Tuesday, at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. TV: MSG 2
OUTLOOK: Sometime next Spring these Penguins-Rangers rivals just might face each other in the playoffs as they did last season. As a result, the regular season confrontations bear watching. How the Rangers defend against Sidney Crosby always is a study in Hockey Science 101.