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First the Garden Booed Last Night, but Then, Boy, Did It Rock

The first period of last night's Rangers' game against the Bruins was a bit too much like the third period of the game in Boston two Saturdays ago: The Bruins peppered Henrik Lundqvist with shots, nineteen of them made it on goal, and, this time, two of them found the back of the net. When the period ended, the Rangers heard boos from the Garden crowd — not the loudest ones they've ever heard, but audible expressions of frustration, nonetheless. A day after the Rangers earned two huge points in Philadelphia, they found themselves in an early hole — one that would get only deeper when Chris Kelly scored on an odd-man rush midway through the second period. The Rangers were down 3-0, in their third-to-last game of the season — a game in which a loss would mean no longer controlling their own playoff destiny. And then, everything started to change.

Two Vinny Prospal goals cut the lead to 3-2 heading into the second intermission, and set up a wild final minutes that accomplished, by our count, at least three things: They earned the Rangers two critical points; they demonstrated once again that this particular Rangers team has the ability to give a good team fits in the playoffs; and they reminded all the delirious fans inside the Garden why they've fallen in love with this particular group.

The Rangers, as a team, made their fair share of dumb passes last night: soft ones with no chance to reach their intended destination, impossible cross ice attempts that would inevitably be intercepted, etc. But the pass Ryan Callahan made to Brandon Dubinsky — on a spin move from the side boards, right to Dubinsky's tape at the top of the crease — made up for all of them. Dubinsky's subsequent nifty move tied the game — the latest scoring drought appears to be over, by the way — and what had been a 3-0 deficit in front of a frustrated crowd had turned into a game in which the Rangers were poised to earn at least a point, in front of a crowd that by now had whipped itself into a frenzy.

And the Rangers weren't done: The kept the pressure on Boston — perhaps 3:48 would have been too much time to try to kill off to earn the guaranteed point of overtime, anyway — and with 2:57 to go, Michael Sauer put them ahead on a stoppable shot that sneaked past Tim Thomas and trickled just over the goal line. How fitting for this particular team that arguably the two biggest goals of the year were scored by the combination of Callahan and Dubinsky, and by one of the team's promising rookies. By the time Derek Stepan sealed the the 5-3 win with an empty-net goal two minutes later — the Rangers' fifth unanswered goal — even Lundqvist skated to the bench to participate in the celebration. After all, why should he be any different than anyone else in the building, save for those wearing black and gold? This might not have been the Rangers' most complete game of the year, but it's their finest win nonetheless.

And so the magic number is down to three points. Ninth-place Carolina — now four points behind the Rangers — plays Detroit on Wednesday. Eighth-place Buffalo — now one point behind the Rangers — plays Tampa Bay tonight. And sixth-place Montreal — tied with the Rangers in points, but owners of the tie-breaker between the two teams — is in action tonight, as well, against Chicago.

Perhaps it's best to end with a quote from John Tortorella's press conference last night: "I'm not a big lovefest guy here, but I like, I just like how we stuck to it, and we showed balls. It was really good stuff." It really was.

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images