Last night the Rangers had to do one thing, they had to win. In April it will not matter how the game ended up in the win column, it will only matter that it did. This game is one such example, of how the final score is more important than the circumstances which lead up to it.
At first glance the 4-2 final on the road, in a tough city, seems like it would be reflective of only good things. However, upon close examination, little seems different from the previous four games.
Kirk McClean was brilliant once again, stopping 38 of 40 shots, some of which seemed destined for twine. The Rangers road McClean's back for the majority of the night, as once again the defensive zone coverage, and transition game left a great deal to be desired.
On the offensive side of the puck, the Rangers have had little trouble so far. First period goals by Adam Graves, and Valeri Kamensky set the Rangers out to a 2-1 lead that would stay that way until the third period.
Graves took advantage of some questionable Chicago play and let go a cannon of a slap-shot past Rob Tallas. After Chicago tied the score off a nice goal by Steve Sullivan, who burned Brian Leetch, Mark Messier hit Kamensky with a bullseye pass through the middle, that sent Kamensky on a breakaway. In classic Kamensky form, he faked the goalie to the ice and guided in a wrist shot from close in.
After that, it was all Chicago. The Rangers held on for dear life as the 'Hawks battled for the tying goal. However, at the ten minute mark of the third period, Jan Hlavac cashed in on some poor goaltending by Tallas, and even poorer defensive zone play by Chicago. Hlavac was able to fish the puck out of a scramble in the crease twice, and pop in the second rebound for what would eventually turn out to be the game winner. Theo Fleury, whose luck has apparently changed, potted a 192 foot empty net goal. Last year's Fleury would have caused an icing, which would have led to the tying goal. Maybe some of that Mets Magic rubbed off on him during batting practice. Chicago added a goal with just a few seconds left to make the final 4-2.
So a win is a win is a win, right? It was a game the Rangers had to win, and they did. The only disturbing thing, is that if McClean had a bad game by chance, the Rangers would have blown an easy two points. Chicago is a struggling franchise much like the Rangers, they too are searching to identity. The truth be told, the Rangers are still far away from being able to handle the NHL's top teams.
Sunday night, the Rangers are back home to host the Tampa Bay Lightning, a game that can not be taken lightly, especially considering Tampa's history of success against the Rangers. The Rangers will have to prove that they can climb up the ladder, and not just hang on for dear life in one spot, trying not to fall.
Power-play Conversions: Nyr - 0 of 2, Chi - 0 of 4. Goalies: NNY Rangers, K Mclean (40 shots, 38 saves; record: 3-2-0). Chicago, Tallas (24, 21; record: 1-1-0).