Are Rangers Wins More Satisfying When They Don’t Come Easy?

Derek Stepan #21 of the New York Rangers is congratulated after scoring the game winning goal during the third period against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden on March 4, 2012 in New York City.
Derek Stepan, after his third-period goal yesterday.

The last time the Rangers beat the Bruins, back on Valentine’s Day, John Tortorella noted afterwards that he thought his team looked sloppy, and despite earning the two points, didn’t necessarily play their best game. And so yesterday’s win over Boston — the Rangers’ third over the Bruins in three tries this season, and fifth in a row against the B’s dating back to last year — wasn’t really a dominant effort either: Boston surged at times, erased leads of 2-0 and 3-2, and for what it’s worth, had nearly twice as many shots on goal as the Rangers. But again, the Rangers earned the two points. It isn’t always pretty, but the Rangers are earning lots and lots of points these days.

The Rangers have the best record in the NHL right now: They’re ten points ahead of Pittsburgh in the Atlantic, and have a twelve-point lead over both the Flyers and the Northeast Divison-leading Bruins. Meanwhile, in the race for the best overall record, they have a one-point lead over Vancouver, and a two-point lead over both St. Louis and Detroit. (They also have two games in hand on all three of those Western Conference teams.) Going into this season, we were hoping the Rangers could avoid having to wait until the last weekend of the season to learn their playoff fate. Now, with eighteen games remaining, the Presidents’ Trophy is a very real possibility.

The Rangers have earned nine out of a possible ten points over their last five games, though at times they’ve looked like something less than a Cup contender: On Friday night, they squandered a 2-0 lead, settling for a point after Brandon Dubinsky scored a goal late in the third-period to tie the game and Tampa Bay won it during the five-minute overtime. Then yesterday was a bit of a mixed bag: On the one hand, it was discouraging to see momentum swing towards Boston for a time after the Rangers took their 2-0 lead. On the other hand, we’re sure it was more frustrating for Boston to see the Rangers take a 4-3 lead on Derek Stepan’s goal just 39 seconds after David Krejci tied the game at 3.

John Tortorella said afterwards that he felt even better about getting a win in a game in which they didn’t have their A-game, at least not for the entire 60 minutes. (We’ll note here that while the Rangers are generally considered a well-conditioned team, this was their third game in four days.) We’re of two minds here: On the one hand, of course we’d like to see the Rangers win games comfortably, controlling play from the opening face-off to the final buzzer. But realistically, they won’t play a perfect game every night, nor will teams roll over for them. Instead, this is the kind of game they’ll need to win going forward: a tight contest against a quality opponent, in which the outcome may very well hinge on a handful of plays.

Thanks to the Big East Tournament taking over the Garden this week, the Rangers now hit the road for three straight games. Next up: The Devils tomorrow night in Newark.

Rangers Wins Don’t Always Come Easy