JIM: True, the Rangers did score five goals, equaling their one-game high this season, but the team's No. 1 Star was most definitely someone who did not come close to scoring, but who prevented the Panthers from doing the same. Henrik Lundqvist turned in a rock-solid effort coming off Monday's loss in Tampa, controlling his rebounds, playing sound positionally, and keeping his team from being run out of the building early in the first period and again for the first half of the second period when Florida surged and carried the play. Lundqvist came within seven and a half minutes of his third shutout, and finished with 31 saves, and was the major difference maker for the Rangers Wednesday night.
Mats Zuccarello did have an egregious giveaway on Florida's first goal by Scottie Upshall, but he earns Second Star honors with a strong game otherwise---one that included a gorgeous power play assist on Derick Brassard's game-opening goal and a late power play goal of his own which quelled the Panthers comeback attempt. His importance on the power play---not only last night, but all season---can not be overstated, and his dilgence defensively is making him a much more complete player this season. The Rangers needed an offensive spark last night and Zuccarello provided just that.
Rick Nash played a bt more than 15 minutes and only had two shots on goal, but he scored a huge goal early in the third period---the eventual game winner---and helped create Brad Richards' score late in the second, playing a major role in arguably the two most important scores of the game Wednesday. The Rangers had been badly outplayed in the second period before Richards found a way to give New York a 2-0 lead; and Nash seemed to captaue the attention of goaltender Tim Thomas and the defenseman in front as he charged to the net. That subtlely may have helped Richards shot to slip past Thomas. And his snap shot from the slot in the third period which eluded Thomas was vintage Nash---with his steal setting up his own unassisted goal a key component of his effort on the scoring play.
MATT: You hit the nail right on the head, Jim. Henrik Lundqvist was the team's best player last night, especially in the second period, when the Panthers came out firing after allowing the first goal in the first period. Despite the Rangers scoring five goals, they needed Lundqvist to be on his game and he answered the bell. He had a difficult game Monday night but completely bounced back with one of his strongest performances when the Rangers needed him most.
Hard to argue with your second selection also, as Mats Zuccarello had another strong game on the power play, where I think he plays his best hockey. On Derick Brassard's goal, Zuccarello put the puck in the perfect spot for Brassard to re-direct it past Tim Thomas to give the Rangers the 1-0 lead. After a defensive mistake that led to Florida making it a 3-2 game late in the third period, Zuccarello responded quickly with the power play goal the sealed the deal for the Rangers.
My third star goes to Brad Richards, who's goal late in the second period I felt changed the complexion of the game. The Rangers had been badly outplayed through most of the second, but Richards allowed the team to leave the period feeling good up 2-0. It was Richards' first goal since the last time these two teams met on Nov. 10. The goal was Richards' team-leading seventh of the campaign.