Here's the light at the end of the tunnel - the last game of the New York Rangers' long nine game road trip. On Saturday night, the final stop on this magical mystery tour was in Detroit as the Rangers faced the Detroit Red Wings. The Rangers played with incredible effort and it paid off as they end the road trip with a 3-2 overtime win at Joe Louis Arena.
For the second straight game, the New York Rangers would feature goalie Cam Talbot in the net as Henrik Lundqvist recovers from his undisclosed injury. Lundqvist said he was hurt in the Rangers' victory over Los Angeles. He practiced with the team on Saturday and hopes to be ready for the home opener on Monday against the Canadiens.
The Rangers played a decent first period until one mistake becomes a goal. Mats Zuccarello, who was benched in Thursday's game against the Flyers and was placed on the fourth line in this game, made an ill-advised pass to try to get the puck into the offensive zone.
Detroit's Drew Miller got to the puck and skated down the ice, creating a 2-on-1. Drew Miller kept the puck and wristed it past Talbot to give the Red Wings a 1-0 lead. It was Drew Miller's first goal in 24 games (dating back to last season). With this goal, the Rangers' last three goals allowed came on turnovers or mishandlings of the puck - which definitely doesn't do justice for the incredibly solid goaltending for Cam Talbot, who made 15 saves in the first period alone.
Otherwise, the Rangers and Red Wings played a spirited, back-and-forth game. The Rangers killed off both penalty kills they faced, but their real strength was even strength. The Blueshirts played very strong 5-on-5 hockey. They were able to cycle and sustain great pressure on the Wings in the offensive zone. They won battles on the boards and they were much more organized getting through the neutral zone. This was especially true for Chris Krieder, who was aggressive all over the ice - getting quality scoring chances, blocking shots, make solid reads on defense, and getting himself in the right position on both ends of the ice. For the most part, the same could be said for the team as a whole - except for Taylor Pyatt, who nearly had a costly giveaway early and Zuccarello, who did late in the first. What made it more disappointing at this point is so far this season, when the Rangers are trailing after the first period, they are 0-4.
It would be more of the same in the second with the Rangers getting quality chances to score, but to no avail. The Rangers would probably have put at least three or four goals on the board in the first half of the second if it wasn't for Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard, who made some key saves, but also had some luck with a couple Ranger shots hitting the post. Defenseman Marc Staal was able to get a great pass down ice to Derick Brassard for a breakaway, but Howard got a piece of his wrister. Talbot had to make a couple key saves during the period, but the Rangers kept the Red Wings from having a shot on goal for over 12 minutes of play.
Then, Derek Stepan was able to draw a penalty after a tough forechecking shift by the top line. Then, finally, the Rangers hard work was rewarded. On the man advantage, the Rangers got some players in front. A loose puck found its way to the stick blade of the much-maligned Benoit Pouliot, who swiped the puck with a backhand and got it to sail past Howard to tie the game. It was Pouliot's first goal and point as a New York Ranger.
But, for the second straight game, a bad Ranger penalty late in the second period shifted the momentum. Taylor Pyatt was called for holding. The Red Wings' power play, which has been been at 30% for the last few games, capitalized on Pyatt's gaffe. Pavel Datsyuk fed a great pass to former Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was able to get a quick shot past Talbot for give the Wings a 2-1 lead just before the end of the second period. It was Alfredsson's 22nd career goal against New York. The Rangers outshot the Wings 16-8, but found themselves behind in the game. So far, this season, when trailing after two periods, the Rangers are 0-5.
The Rangers brought the pressure again in the third, but unlike the Flyers game, the Rangers' second goal would not be nullified. Once again after a strong forechecking shift, the team was able to get a point shot on goal with a huge slap shot from Marc Staal. The rebound would be collected by another maligned player, Mats Zuccarello, who finally put the puck in the net for his first of the year.
It's the first time the Rangers have scored two goals in a game since their 2-0 shutout victory against Washington on October 16. One of the assists on this goal came from Dominic Moore, who scores his first point in his second stint with the Rangers. The other assist was credited to Marc Staal, who scored his first point since the season opener (when he scored the only Ranger goal in a 4-1 loss to Phoenix).
After the goal the Rangers kept working away on the Wings in the offensive zone and were able to get back on the power play, but a turnover at the blue line by Brad Richards nearly resulted in a Wings shorthanded goal. The Rangers were able to regain their composure and get back into the offensive zone, but a bad penalty was taken by the Blueshirts' J.T. Miller as he crosschecked a defenseman in front of the net in the waning seconds of the power play.
Now, on the power play, the Red Wings kept the puck on the Rangers' end, exhausting their penalty killers. In the final seconds of the man advantage, Talbot came up big in the net and kept the score tied at two.
The power play seemed to get new life to the Wings and both teams continued the back and forth play as the third period continued. Both goaltenders were called upon to make big saves, but especially Talbot, who was playing in only his second NHL game. By the end of regulation, Talbot had 32 saves, with 10 of them on Detroit power plays. Detroit outshot the Rangers 10-8 in the third, but the Rangers held the edge for regulation time with 37 shots to the Red Wings' 34.
This would be the first overtime period played by the Rangers' this season and it would end in great fashion for them. A strong skating effort by Pouliot to take the puck past Detroit defenseman Kyle Quincey ended with a dive by Pouliot. He was able to advance the puck forward to a fast-skating Derick Brassard, who squeezed the puck under Howard's blocker to give the Rangers the win with 13 seconds left in overtime.
For Brassard, it would be his first goal of the season and much needed one for the struggling center and for the team. Pouliot would end the game with a goal and an assist.
For the Blueshirts, not only was it their first win in three games (Oct. 16 vs. Washington 2-0) and their first overtime victory of the season, it was also the first NHL win for Cam Talbot. The goaltender, who was brought up from the AHL to back up Henrik Lundqvist, played strong against the Flyers on Thursday with 25 saves on 27 shots. On Saturday night, Talbot made even better quality saves, showing much more poise than most goaltenders would show in their second career start. He also made more saves Saturday as he stopped 32 shots for the Rangers. Talbot is the first Rangers goalie to win at Joe Louis Arena since Mike Richter did it in 1999.
Detroit's Jimmy Howard stopped 37 for the Rangers' season-high 40 shots on goal, but importantly for the Rangers, he couldn't stop that 40th one in overtime.
Here's a couple questions for the Rangers entering the next game. First, of course, will Henrik Lundqvist be healthy enough to start or will get a closer look at the backup Cam Talbot? If Lundqvist starts, what will be the identity of the Ranger team in front of him? The Rangers looked like a much more cohesive teams over the last couple of games (with Talbot in the net). Will they fall back into the mindset of thinking Hank can handle anything or will they step up like they did against Detroit and play Ranger hockey?
Also, will the Rangers see the same consistent hard-working ethic from certain players on the roster who were expected to give it? Players like Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, and Benoit Pouliot have all had rough seasons until Saturday's breakout game. Barring anything major, the team will be getting forward Carl Hagelin back into the lineup on Tuesday night when they face the Islanders. But, even with that great news, the Rangers will still need scoring from other players on the roster.
Ranger fans, the next time you'll see your team, it will be in the new look Madison Square Garden on Monday night.