Concentrating on Game 82 of the season was equally difficult last night at The Garden for both the Blueshirts and visiting Penguins.
They had nothing much to gain except another notch on the Win Tree and, at this point in time, neither wanted to exit with an injury.
As a result, the sellout crowd was satisfied with the Blueshirts 3-2 decision and — like the population of Rangerville — are training their eyes, hearts and minds on the first playoff round on Wednesday in Montreal.
Not that last night’s tilt was without gobs of excitement and some interesting new faces.
Hellberg displayed his mettle in the first period stopping Penguins sharpshooter Phil Kessel on a breakaway. He was steady throughout, winning his first NHL game and also named one of the three stars.
TURNING POINT: The seesaw battle could have gone either way but Vesey inspired a standing ovation with his red-lighter in the final frame.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
1. ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL: For a club that had spent early spring with difficulties winning at home, the finale at The Garden that culminated with a W was as well as any Ranger fan could want.
2. HERE’S TO MATS: The people’s choice, Mats Zuccarello, won the 2016-17 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. The Mighty Mite got the prize for “going above and beyond the call of duty.” It was the third time for Matty.
3. STEPPING UP: Derek Stepan continues to prove that he’s back on the scoring track. His goal put the Rangers ahead 2-1 on a power play.
4. KUDOS FOR THE CAPTAIN: In addition to scoring a spectacular goal Ryan McDonagh played an all-round solid game and appears ready to lead his club against the Habs.
5. BASH GLASS: If the Blueshirts believe they need grit against Montreal, Tanner Glass is there to provide the hits. He showed brute force flattening Pittsburgh’s Cameron Gaunce in open ice in the second period.
WHAT THEY SAID:
1. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST STEVE VALIQUETTE: “The Rangers tried to reflect in this game what they hope to accomplish in the Montreal series.”
4. RYAN MCDONAGH: “I felt real strong on my skates. We’re pretty antsy about the playoffs. It’s going to be a pretty different intensity level; real fast out there. It’ll come down to winning battles.”
5. MAGNUS HELLBERG: “This was really big for me. I’m very happy, especially the end of game celebration. Henrik Lundqvist was a guy I always looked up to and now I feel a part of the team.”
6. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST JOE MICHELETTI: “I liked the way Ryan McDonagh came back. Jimmy Vesey is someone to watch out for in the playoffs.”
7. ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “We’re going into the playoffs as healthy as a team can be. Our players have a great opportunity ahead. For every player, it’s a clean slate and let’s have some fun.”
8. MATS ZUCCARELLO: “It was an emotional moment for me (getting the Steven McDonald Award) and for the family. For me, it’s really big. A lot of my teammates also deserved this prize. Now we set our minds for a tough series ahead.”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: The Rangers open the first round of the playoffs on Wednesday night at Bell Centre in Montreal. TV: MSG Network.
BOTTOM LINE: The Rangers didn’t win the Presidents’ Trophy but their overall record was commendable. More to the point, they gained a playoff berth and now are in position to display their mettle in the postseason. Montreal, here they come!