Losing two straight to NHL basement-dwellers is not a game plan for confidence nor a high place in league standings. Hence, a victory over the Winged Wheelers at Joe Louis Arena last night took on more than passing importance.
Among other tidbits, this would be the Rangers last visit to Detroit’s venerable rink to be replaced by a spanking new ice palace next season.
No worries. Once again, it was a matter of Raanta being superbly sharp between the metal while captain Ryan McDonagh produced a pair of key goals — the first one shorthanded — on the way to a relatively easy 4-1 decision.
Although McDonagh is most revered for his work behind the blue line, his offensive knack was evident again on the second goal following a fire-drill scramble in front of the Detroit net.
The Captain finally threaded the needle of players and scored. Meanwhile, when the home club made its push, Raanta was ready. A split-second save after a Dylan Larkin reverse spin-o-rama was among Antti’s best.
Other good news was Derek Stepan‘s coming through with a third period power play goal after what seemed to be an interminable drought — 23 games. The entire Rangers bench then rose to hail one of the club’s most respected forwards.
This sets the stage for a happy return to The Garden tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a club desperately trying to snare a playoff berth.
OVERVIEW: This was a game that the Rangers should have won — and did win in precisely the correct way. The Blueshirts exploited a succession of Detroit giveaways and made the most of them. The return of Michael Grabner added some oomph to the offense and, of course, Stepan’s return to the scoresheet gave the entire lineup a lift and a more pleasant flight home for tonight’s encounter with the Bolts.
TURNING POINT: McDonagh’s second goal gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead and, after that, Raanta simply refused any further Detroit thrusts.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
1. RAANTA REWARDED: Antti stopped 23-of-24 shots and remained as self-assured as ever in his backup role. He figures to be a fine starter for the next two weeks, at least.
2. SPECIAL TEAMS DELIVER: The Blueshirts went 1-for-2 on the power play and killed 3-of-4 Red Wing power plays. Plus, New York scored a shorthander.
3. A ROAD WELL-PAVED: This was the club’s 10th win in their last dozen road games with a league-leading 25th victory away from home.
4. WELCOME BACK, MICHAEL AND RICK: Key forwards Michael Grabner and Rick Nash returned as the Blueshirts wounded got back on the ice.
5. STEPAN STEPS UP: Scoring his first goal in 23 games, Stepan lit the power play red light in the third to snuff out any thoughts of a Detroit comeback.
WHAT THEY SAID:
1. RYAN MCDONAGH: “We learned a tough lesson in Carolina the other night; playing only a 40-minute game. Against Detroit, for us, it was a 60-minute game. Great to see Derek Stepan get one. He plays in every situation for us, and is as honest a player as you’ll see. I’m glad he broke through. When it comes to Raanta, we have plenty of confidence in him because he makes the big saves.”
2. ANTTI RAANTA: “We did things different from Carolina; much better in a lot of different ways. All in all, I would say that we played a good road game. As for my next game with the Lightning, I take them one at a time. I’d get stressful if I got ahead of myself. I’m enjoying this run and having fun. In terms of back-to-back games, I’m prepared. After all, I work hard in practice and my goalie coach (Benoit Allaire) is behind a lot of my success. With Hank out, when I get the call, I have confidence in myself.”
3. NBC ANALYST MIKE MILBURY: “The Rangers will be fine in goal while Lundqvist is out. I like Raanta; he’s relaxed, calm and collected. I wouldn’t worry about him taking over for the next couple of weeks; he’s going to be fine.”
4. NBC ANALYST JEREMY ROENICK: “The Rangers are as good as any team when it comes to winning road games. Look at their record, 25-9 away from The Garden. That confidence in playing on the road will be especially helpful to them in the playoffs. Frankly, I like their position right now.”
5. MAVEN’S REPORTER MATTHEW BLITTNER: “The Rangers quick-strike ability made the difference late in the second period.”
6. MAVEN’S REPORTER NICHOLAS FLAHERTY: “Henrik Lundqvist’s injury could be a blessing in disguise. When Hank returns, he’ll be well-rested for the playoffs.”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: The Lightning visit The Garden tonight. Game time, 7 p.m. TV: MSG NETWORK, coverage starts at 6:30 p.m.