JIM: No question in my mind who the Rangers No. 1 Star was Tuesday night and that was Henrik Lundqvist. He did not face consistent pressure throughout the game, but when he did face pressure it was intense and the Panthers' scoring chances were of the prime variety. Yet Lundqvist stayed sharp and focused, challenged shooters through traffic, and finished with 21 saves on the night. Lundqvist looked more confident with his movements out there, and then came through by stopping all three Panthers in the shootout---incouding an aggressive poke check to stop Jonathan Huberdeau in Round Two. As the calendar flips to 2014 more performances like this from Lundqvist are in order.
Ryan McDonagh logged 28:10 Tuesday, fired six shots on goal, was a horse again in his own end of the ice in front of Lundqvist, and is my choice as the Rangers Second Star. It's pretty much redundant in saying that once again the Mac Truck is one of, if not THE best, Rangers out on the ice game after game. Even strength, on the power play creating offense, and during four penalty kills including a crucial four-minute kill in the third period McDonagh stood out at every turn.
I know the easy thing to do would be to choose either Brad Richards--for his shootout-winning goal--or Dan Girardi--for his game-tying goal---as one of the Rangers stars last night, but Richards also took a double minor high stick that could have sealed his team's fate in the third period and did not receord a single shot on goal throughout 65 minutes of play, while Girardi played a largely solid game over 28 minutes, but did have the crucial turnover on the Panthers goal in the second. So I am going with Dominic Moore here, a sparkplug all night when the Rangers often did not have much spark. He was outstanding on the penalty kill, played 12:36 of in your face hockey, had three shots on goal, rang a shot off the post in the first period, and was credited with five hits on the night. Not everyone played a complete game Tuesday, Dom Moore did.
MATT: I have to agree with you regarding Henrik Lundqvist, who closed out 2013 with two very good performances in Florida. You can tell Lundqvist is playing with more confidence and more of a comfort level than he had been playing with leading up to his three-game stint watching from the Rangers bench. Is there still work to be done? Probably, but the game is so mental and Lundqvist seems to be figuring out that part of the problem out. As you said, Jim, Lundqvist didn't have a ton of pressure, but the pressure he did face he handled well. It was also good to see Lundqvist back to his former self in the shootout.
I'll take the easy way out with my second star and go with Dan Girardi, who certainly bounced back strong after his second period giveaway led to Florida's only goal on the night by scoring late to force overtime. As Girardi said to John Giannone after the contest, those plays just happen, and if anyone was going to score to tie the game, I was hoping it'd be Girardi. Aside from the misplay, I thought Girardi played a solid game, as his registered three shots and two hits in just over 28 minutes of ice time.
I was going to go with Ryan McDonagh — for the same reasons you gave — but I'm going to go with Derek Stepan, who I thought was the key to the Rangers tying the game late. Stepan was great behind the net and set up Chris Kreider who nearly scored, before scooping up the loose puck and finding Girardi streaking in. Stepan finished with the assist, one shot, two blocked shots and won 55 percent of his faceoffs.