Ryan Callahan's goal 2:55 into overtime not only lifted the Rangers to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night at the PNC Arena, it lifted the Rangers into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well. The win clinched the Rangers third straight trip to the post-season, and seventh in the past eight seasons.
After Carolina had dominated most of the overtime, Callahan burst in on left wing and zipped a shot that hit the far post and went in for his 15th goal of the season, setting off a wild on-ice celebration. It was an emotional victory for the Rangers, who rallied to force overtime on a flukey Brad Richards power play goal at 17:03 of the third period.
Henrik Lundqvist made 18 saves in victory, and Dan Ellis excelled in defeat for the Hurricanes with 34 saves.
With the clock winding down and their hopes dimming rapidly, the Rangers scored a fortunate goal with 2:57 to play in regulation to pull even 3-3. Skating on the power play after Tuomo Ruutu was penalized for tripping Derek Stepan at 15:12, the Rangers tied the game when Richards blasted a slap shot wide of the net and off the back boards, and the puck then caromed off the back of Ellis' skate and slipped over the goal line.
Jiri Tlusty's second goal of the game and 23rd of the season came just 49 seconds into the third period, and had snapped a 2-2 tie. On the first shift of the final period of play, Tlusty buried a pass from Eric Staal off a 2-on-1 rush, stunning the Rangers who had seen their early 2-0 advantage completely evaporate. Tlusty's goal was one of just two shots Carolina took in the final period of play.
The visitors nearly pulled even two minutes later when Stepan broke in alone on Ellis, but the Carolina goaltender made a sensational save on Stepan's backhand attempt.
After accomplishing one of their pre-game goals by jumping out to an early lead, the Rangers saw their 2-0 lead dissipate into a 2-2 tie by time the second intermission rolled around, setting the stage for---arguably---their most important period of play this season.
Stepan scored off the rush 3:19 into the first period to put the Rangers ahead 1-0. The trailer on what turned out to be a 3-on-2, Stepan buried his 17th goal under the arm of Ellis after Carl Hagelin fed into the slot from the left circle. Michael Del Zotto set the play in motion with a long breakout pass to Ryan Callahan. Though he did not earn an assist on the play, Del Zotto did finish with a pair of assists in the game, as did Hagelin.
Derick Brassard scored with 4:48 to play in the first period to put the Rangers up 2-0. After a scramble in front, Brassard came out from behind the net and whipped the puck past a flailing Ellis for his 12th goal---and second in as many games. After scoring Brassard skated towards the glass where a large contingent of Rangers fans were cheering and waved his arms wildly in celebration.
But any celebratory feeling by the visitors would disappear in the second period. Despite outshooting Carolina by a 16-4 margin in the second period, the Rangers were outscored 2-0 in the middle 20 minutes and shockingly found themselves in a 2-2 game entering the crucial third period.
Tlusty scored the first of his two goals on the night to give the 'Canes life 4:51 in to the second, netting a power play goal after a tic-tac-toe passing sequence finished off by he and Jeff Skinner in front of Lundqvist. Matt Gilroy was in the penalty box for tripping at the time of the goal---playing his first game since March 12th because Arron Asham left the team in the afternoon to return home early to be with his wife, who was in labor.
Three minutes after Tlusty broke through against Lundqvist, Ruutu took advantage of a Rangers mix-up at the blueline and zipped a right wing shot top shelf for his third goal of the season, tying the game 2-2.
Ellis made a string of huge saves in the middle stanza, and received a big dose of help when Carolina defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron cleared the puck off the goal line during a wild scramble with Ellis down and only 1:43 left on the clock.
Though the Rangers held a 2-0 lead, it can be argued Carolina had the better of the scoring chances in the first period and it was Lundqvist---who turned in a 48-save performance during his last visit to this building 19 days ago---who was making all of the big saves, including a quick glove save on Eric Staal's wicked wrist shot just 2:58 into the game.
Carolina started the game featuring an all-Staal forward line combination. Older brothers Eric and Jordan skated on the same line with 22 year-old Jared, who was making his NHL debut. The fourth Staal brother---Rangers defenseman Marc---watched from the press box as he has yet to be cleared to play due to his right eye injury.
The Rangers lost the services of forward Ryane Clowe in the second period when he left the ice with an undisclosed injury. Clowe did not return to the game, and no update was immediately available on his condition.
New York, which closes its season Saturday afternoon against the Devils at The Garden, still does not know its first round playoff opponent nor which seed they will be in the post-season. As of now the Rangers could still finish anywhere from sixth to eighth in the Eastern Conference.
But thanks to late-game heroics, and Captain Cally's huge overtime winner, the Rangers do know that they most definitely will have more games to play once the regular season concludes this weekend.