JIM: Rick Nash only took two shots on goal Sunday night, and scored on both, a fairly perfect night for the Rangers star forward. He also set the tone by scoring on his first shift, just 70 seconds into the game, stealing the puck and then breaking in on Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer before making him look silly with a sweet backhanded finish. Then Nash followed by doubling the Rangers lead with a 5-on-3 power play goal, which ended up being the game-winning score--his fourth such goal in the past six games. With seven goals in his last eight games overall the streaky Nash is in the midst of his best run of the season, and Sunday he delivered as my selection for the game's First Star.
I thought Ryan Callahan played his best all-around game in some time on Sunday, as such is my No. 2 Rangers Star. Callahan was extremely physical, in on the forecheck throughout, and seemed to haveextra jump in his game. He also scored a hugely important goal when the Caps were sniffing to get back in the game early in the second period. Callahan's shorthanded goal was deflating in a major way for the Capitals, giving New York a three-goal lead again, one they would carry to the finish line. It was a clutch goal, and part of a big night that saw Callahan credited with four hits, three shots on goal, and that all-important shortie.
Dan Girardi played a big role in the Rangers shut down of the Capitals, and also contributed with a pair of assists and a plus-three plus/minus rating on the offensive end, so I am going with him as my No. 3 Star. I thought Girardi was real physical, made smart plays with the puck, and again did a terrific job quieting the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Johansson line, helping limit them to a 5-on-3 power play goal, ten shots combined, and a combined minus five. Girardi was credited with four blocked shots and four hits, and was in the midst of several post-whistle skirmishes---real engaged throughout was Girardi.
MATT: No question that Rick Nash was the best player on the ice last night for both teams. As you said, he set the tone with his early goal, and then added to it on his second of the night just a few minutes later. On the first goal, Nash read the play perfectly, picked the puck off and drove to the net for the backhand tally. Nash is dominating games right now and it's no coincidence that the team is playing much better with their best player being just that.
Hard to argue with Callahan after his goal in the second period, which proved to be huge. It came moments after Washington scored to cut the Rangers' lead to 3-1, but that's as close as they would get, as Callahan's short-hander gave the Rangers the three-goal lead immediately after the Capitals got on the board. The goal was all hard work by Callahan, who beat the Capitals defenseman and drove hard to the net to bury a rebound from Dominic Moore's low slap shot. You know what you're getting from Ryan Callahan every night, but it's extra special when he can chip in with such a crucial, clutch goal like the one he had last night.
Jim, when you're right, your'e right. Have to go with Dan Girardi after his two-assist night on the goals that gave the Rangers a bit of a buffer and some breathing room. Girardi, in my opinion, has had the biggest turnaround from the start of the season as anyone on the roster. He's back to playing his solid, shutdown defense and is picking up points like he had last night. His line is very Girardi-like, with four hits and four blocked shots. It seems like Girardi tough start is miles behind him at this point.