Fan Reaction: NYR/TBL (Feb. 28)

Written By: Joe Maloney, Rangers Fan Since '90

The stars were out for the New York Rangers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden against the Tampa Bay Lightning. On this special night, not only were the stars sparkling in the red, white and blue, but they also shined in gold.

The gold, of course, came from the stars surrounding the Garden of Dreams Foundation logo anchored on the LED boards for the Foundation's night. Every season, this is a night where the only things shining brighter than the lights reflecting off the newly resurfaced ice are the glimmers in the eyes of the children who participate in their once-in-a-lifetime experience of helping out during a Rangers game by playing drums or singing the National Anthem.

The Garden faithful were buzzing as our first treat — a child participating as a guest PA announcer — rallied the crowd and introduced the team. A huge cheer erupted as his words, “here they are, your New York Rangers,” echoed throughout the rafters while the team emerged from the locker-room.

There was a different aura in the arena. There seemed to be a sense that the recent struggles were a thing of the past. This night was special. This night was going to produce a win. We sensed it, and we believed it.

Enhancing that excitement was the vision of Nos. 61, 27 and 4 in the line-up. Rick Nash was back after missing four games with an injury, and he appeared ready to go. Gliding across the blue line were Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto, both back to bolster our defensive pairings.

As fans began to settle into their seats, a red carpet was rolled out to center ice. Greeting Rangers captain Ryan Callahan and Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier for an honorary puck drop was a child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation from Hudson Valley. The smile on Callahan’s face said it all.

After a quick photo — which will certainly hang on that child’s wall forever — the teams took their respective places for the National Anthem.

On the blue line, alongside Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman, stood an honorary player from the Foundation. Although he was half the size of his defensive partners, he looked every bit like a Ranger. It was a scene that simply left the fans around me flashing proud smiles on their faces — proud for the boy, and proud to be part of such a classy organization — and one I'll remember for a long time.

The National Anthem, sung by another child from the Foundation, kicked off the “Let’s Go Rangers!” chants reverberating from the crowd.  The level of focus and enthusiasm for the game peaked the very second linesman dropped the puck.

The "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd only continued as the Rangers piled up the shots and jumped on the Lightning early. By the eight-minute mark, the Rangers had 13 shots on goal to the Lightning's one. The back portions of the chairs were unnecessary, as everyone in the building was on the edge their seats, sensing something big was coming.

It came when Carl Hagelin deked around a sliding defender and ripped a slap-shot past Mathieu Garon for his seventh goal of the season. In one motion, a synchronized swimming team of 18,200 people — including Hagelin — raised their arms in a Rocky Balboa celebratory pose. This, of course, cued the Rangers goal song and a series of obligatory high-fives with my seatmates.

With only enough time for a sip of beer and a bite of a hotdog, Callahan fed Derek Stepan for a gorgeous goal to put the Rangers up 2-0. It was a brilliant reactionary play, earning Stepan his fourth of the season.

The crowd had not yet quieted down when Stu Bickel and B.J. Crombeen dropped the gloves in front of the Rangers bench, where Crombeen spent most of the fight. By the time the crowd settled back down, the feeling of a dominant performance was already resonating in our minds.

The Garden was briefly silenced by Martin St. Louis, who scored on a beautiful deflection from Eric Brewer. My over-the-shoulder view of Henrik Lundqvist revealed there was nothing he could have done to stop the puck. My goaltender brother, Michael, was sitting on my right and spent most of the game admiring Lundqvist’s talent, concurred.

When the horn sounded to signal the end of the first period, you could feel a slight tension in the building. For some fans, it was hard not to question how such a dominant Rangers period, which saw a 20-3 shot advantage, could have ended with only a one goal lead.

The second period was underway, but mostly lacked the excitement of the first. It was characterized by turnovers and neutral zone play by both teams. Fans were again frustrated by the lack of shots on the powerplay, often shouting “shoot!” through much of the period.

Then, Marc Staal aggressively parked himself in front of Tampa Bay’s net on the powerplay and tapped home a goal for his second of the season. The arena erupted amidst some confusion on whether Callahan or Staal would get credit for the goal. Even so, the smirk on Staal’s face was evidence enough that it was his goal.

The final stanza was largely a two-syllable one: Hen-Rik. Lundqvist created his own highlight reel with tough glove saves and a brilliant stop during a 2-on-1 break for the Lightning. The King stood on his head with 14 saves in the period to preserve the Rangers 3-1 lead.

The game wouldn’t be complete without a “Nashty” goal. Off a great pass by Brad Richards, Nash pulled the puck left and scored, making it 4-1 New York.

When the game ended, the team and their fans were happy to get their stars back. Nash finished with a goal and an assist, and McDonagh finished with two assists, both playing major roles in the win.

With the victory, the Rangers completed a season sweep of the Lightning. The team's 42 shots on goal tied a season-high. Also worth noting, Richards won 17 out of 20 face-offs.

On this special night at the Garden, all the stars has shined red, white, blue and, most importantly, gold.

What was your top moment from Thursday night's game? Tell us in the comment section below.