The standard hockey-cliché assessment of last night’s Rangers game is that they “found a way to win,” overcoming blown leads and an untimely penalty and a bizarre three-on-three situation. But we prefer John Tortorella’s take following the 4–3 shootout win over Los Angeles: “We’ve got some balls.” And following a span of six straight close-game losses, the Rangers also have two more points and their first winning streak in three and a half weeks.
Unsatisfying may be too strong a word — there was plenty to enjoy over the final twenty minutes of regulation and beyond last night — but this particular win still feels a little hollow. For a team that’s played so strong during third periods this year, it’s discouraging to see them twice allow the Kings to tie the score, once after Marian Gaborik fluttered the puck past Jonathan Bernier to snap his goal-less streak at seven games, and again after Ryan Callahan’s rush up ice and Brandon Dubinsky’s wraparound gave the Rangers a 3–2 lead. Games in which you take two separate leads in the third period shouldn’t go into overtime.
Similarly, overtimes that begin with four minutes of power-play time on the scoreboard shouldn’t go to a shootout. But once Brandon Dubinsky’s high-sticking penalty subtracted two minutes off the Rangers’ man advantage and led to pickup-style 3-on-3 action, it was apparent Tortorella had a plan: Play defense-first hockey despite all the open ice and to try to force a shootout, then let Henrik Lundqvist, Erik Christensen, and Mats Zuccarello take it from there. And it worked. Despite all of this game’s twists and turns, they still earned their two points (and it’s worth noting that allowing an opponent to leave with a point of their own is easier to shrug off when it’s a team from the Western Conference). It wasn’t their prettiest game of the year. But no one ever expected this team to win games in a pretty manner.
In the next week, we’ll learn a lot about the Rangers and their level of team ballsiness (a statistic the NHL refuses to keep track of for some reason). This weekend, they’ll play the Devils and Flyers, respectively the conference’s hottest and best teams. Following that, they’ve got games against Washington and Carolina, respectively four points ahead of the Rangers and four points behind them in the standings. Those standings have the Rangers in seventh place in the East, by the way, six points ahead of ninth-place Buffalo. At this stage of the season, every point is critical — no matter how it’s earned.