Three and a half minutes into the first period of the Rangers' 2-1 win over the Red Wings at the Garden last night, Detroit was up 1-0, there was an octopus on the ice, and the Garden was silent. Even with called-up AHL-ers peppering the lineup because of widespread injuries, Detroit was poised to break its five-game losing streak. But Henrik Lundqvist, birthday boy Ryan Callahan, and the rest of the Rangers had other ideas.
After that 1-0 lead, the Rangers took advantage of the wounded Wings all game, relishing in Detroit’s sloppy defense, particularly when Brad Richards practically walked the puck into the net for his goal at 14:58 in the first. That would be it, though, despite 34 shots on goal against the Red Wings' third-string goalie, until overtime. Then, Ryan Callahan — who was an offensive beast all evening with eight shots on goal — rifled the OT goal, his 27th of the season, to secure the win. It was also his 27th birthday, if you're a numerologist.
The Rangers became the first team in the Eastern Conference to clinch a playoff berth on Monday, but they weren't coasting; they looked ferocious all evening, particularly after falling behind. Perhaps the Rangers look so hungry, despite their standing and playoff security, because they remember last year when every game down the stretch meant playoffs or bust. It must be nice to be padding a lead. New York remembers what it felt like to fight for every point. Who would want to go back to that?
The Rangers are three points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Penguins play Nashville tonight; the Rangers are off until tomorrow, when they host the Sabres.