MATT: Derek Stepan made my decision for the No. 1 star of the game pretty simple after his one goal, three-point performance Saturday afternoon in Ottawa. Plain and simple, Stepan needed a game like this. I wouldn't say Stepan has been playing poorly — that line of Stepan, Rick Nash and Chris Kreider has developed good chemistry over the last several weeks — but more is expected of Stepan, and he expects more of himself. He probably expects more games like this, and if that can happen, the Rangers will be even more dangerous than they have been over the last three weeks of the season. Stepan just made things happen Saturday and got himself into position to generate offense, like he did on his goal. The best play of his afternoon, though, was his assist on Rick Nash's goal after he banked the puck off the glass to lead Nash on a breakaway.
My second star goes to Brad Richards, who could be playing the best hockey of his season right now. I've written this before and many have said the same, but Richards is playing with a confidence that just was not there last season. He's shooting the puck more and is playing a huge role in the resurgence of the Rangers' power play, which is operating at its best since the first seasons following the 2004 lockout. On Saturday, Richards went back door to score the Rangers' first goal of the game that tied it up and buried a gorgeous top-shelf wrister you wanted to watch over and over. Richards now leads the team with 13 goals and finished his afternoon with five shots and two blocked shots in 20:09 of ice time.
My third star goes to Mats Zuccarello. I just love watching him play these days. He did a bit of everything, but starting with his third period goal, Zuccarello finds his way in passing lanes, which led to his marker after he intercepeted a pass, broke in and deked Craig Anderson for the tally. Zuccarello also plays with a mean streak, and I think it's starting to get noticed. He does it in a way that lets the opposition know he won't take anything, but isn't to the point that he's taking dumb penalties for it.
JIM: No kidding, the Rangers No. 1 Star was a no-brainer Saturday afternoon as Derek Stepan shook off that early hooking penalty and proceeded to have a hand in the team's first three goals. His cross-crease pass to Brad Richards for the 5 on 3 goal which tied the game was gorgeous, and his pass up right wing to spring Rick Nash for a breakaway goal was so perfect that I had to ask them both after the game if that was a set play (they said it's something they work on, but not a set play per se). Then his first goal in 14 games was clutch and was the one which really buried the Senators in the final seconds of the second period. Stepan has come under much scruting since hs pount production is down this season and because he has had three long goal droughts, so you just hope that this is the breakout game to get him back on track and more consistent with his production.
I am with you about Brad Richards, and was in fact surprised that at the game he was not listed among the game's three stars. He just seemed to be on and around the puck all afternoon, and his goal was an important one. When given a 5-on-3 power play on the road, especially when you are already trailing on the scoreboard, you have to score. The Rangers did on a power play quarterbacked by Richards, and finished by him, as well. He also rang iron a couple of times, so arguably Richards could have finished with two or three goals instead of one. I really liked his game Saturday.
For the No. 3 Star you and I will differ, Matt, as I am going with Rick Nash. I felt he generated a lot more than Mats Zuccarello did--taking nothing away from Zucc who played another strong game. Nash led the Rangers with six shots on goal, and his goal in the second period--which proved to be the game-winner--was an absolute laser off the rush. Five goals in his last seven games, and a lot more consistency in the chances he is getting, I'd say the big guy is heating up in this important stretch before the Olympic break.