JIM: Even though he was given a 2-0 lead under three minutes into the game, a 3-0 lead before the first period was half over, and eventually a 4-0 advantage, Henrik Lundqvist was still the Rangers No. 1 Star Sunday night. Philly came at him and the Rangers hard, and generated many terrific scoring chances, most of them from in close where they jammed his crease and forced Lundqvist to physically battle with chaos going on all around him. Lundqvist came through time and again, finishing with 37 saves. The six saves he made on Philly's first period power play, with the Rangers lead at 2-0, really solidified things for the Rangers, and he stopped all 17 shots he faced in the first period. While the second period was a much easier one for him, Lundqvist had to be strong in the third, as well, and he was, stopping 14 of 15 shots. His game is clearly rounding into form, the confidence is coming back, and Lundqvist is yet again the backbone for this team. No surprise then that the Rangers have returned to winning ways.
My Second Star was Rick Nash, who scored for the fourth time in four games and really looked assured and confident making plays in the offensive end all night. You can just tell with a great offensive player when they are "feeling it", and there is no question Nash is feeling it right now. The moves, the passes, the shots--you can just see and sense that Nash is on top of his game, using his skill and strength to generate chance after chance. His goal, 28 seconds after Daniel Carcillo opened the scoring, was a right-wing laser, and he finished with six shots on goal, which was second most on the team. Like Lundqvist, the Rangers Nash on top of his game, adn it's looking more and more like that's exactly where he is right now.
Several Rangers deserve to finish among the Top Three Stars, but I'm going with Chris Kreider, who had a two-point night and played another physical, strong game against the Flyers. If you watch closely he is really making some smart, accurate passes, and his mistakes are becoming fewer and less egregious. Kreider is playing with a lot of confidence, not to mention a lot of jump in his game. He made a nice pass into open space on Nash's goal, and then was so patient and sure of himself on his goal which put the Flyers away in the second period. Just a real nice solid all-around game from the Ranger rookie.
MATT: Hard to argue with Lundqvist at No. 1, so I won't. As you said, he was so strong inside his crease, as the Flyers made no bones about creating traffic and getting dirty inside the blue paint. But, it didn't phase Lundqvist, who was very strong in making 37 saves in the victory. You can see how much he's turned the corner, following up each strong game with another strong game against difficult opponents. Last night's third period reminded me a lot like the third last Wednesday in Chicago, when Lundqvist handled the opposition's desperation to secure the victory.
My second star was Chris Kreider, who picked up his first two-point game since his hat trick against the Canucks in late November. I thought Kreider used his speed very effectively and as always, didn't shy away from taking the body. As you said, Jim, Kreider is becoming a more mature player each game, limiting the penalties and making the smart pass with more frequency. I get the feeling he's a guy who loves to play in testy games, and love watching his physical side come to the forefront more.
As I wrote the other day, I think Rick Nash is playing to prove the naysayers wrong about his inclusion on Team Canada. While I don't think he'd ever say that — nor am I talking for him — you can see Nash just playing with a purpose to stick it to those who felt others should have been there over him. He's driving to the net much more and firing the puck any chance he gets, and recently, when he shoots, he scores. His goal Sunday night was impressive in the fact that he drove down the slot and just blew the puck by Ray Emery. Nash now has four goals in his last four games.