MATT: The first star starts and ends with Henrik Lundqvist, who had one of his best games of the season Friday night at Madison Square Garden. While the final score was a bit lopsided, anyone who saw the game knows the difference was the man in the crease, who protected the Rangers' early 1-0 lead and then kept the game tied long enough for the Rangers to take the lead in the third period. Lundqvist's best save came nine minutes into the opening period when he went side-to-side to flat out rob Josh Bailey. Lundqvist was senstational turning aside 38 saves for his 20th win of the campaign.
My second star was Marc Staal, who has had some stretch of three games, starting on Sunday against the Devils at Yankee Stadium. Staal picked up two assists Friday night, including helpers on Brian Boyle's goal that opened up the scoring just a few minutes into the game, and later made the gorgeous cross-ice pass to Derick Brassard on the game-winning goal. He's been joining the rush more often and it's paid dividends. In addition to the two assists, Staal finished a plus-2 with one hit, blocked shot and takeaway each.
My third star goes to No. 16, Derick Brassard who scored the game-winner with just under eight minutes left to play in the third period. I thought he and his linemates, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot were the Rangers' top line, with Brassard leading the way. On his game-winner, Brassard caught the cross-ice pass from Staal and settled the puck and beat Evgeni Nabokov. Brassard finished with eight shots and won 10 of 15 faceoffs.
JIM: No question Henrik Lundqvist was the Rangers First Star, and the best player for either team on the ice. He was a difference maker---again. Get used to hearing that because Lundqvist is back on top of his game, exactly what the Rangers need heading into the stretch run of the regular season---and exactly what could make Sweden a Gold Medal favorite in Sochi coming up this month. Lundqvist's focus and positioning are what stand out to me right now. While earlier in the year he seemed to be uncharacteristically diving and scrambling to make saves, now he is much more fluid in his movements and seems to be in the right spot all the time, and ahead of the shots. When he plays like this he makes things look almost effortless. By the way that right pad save while in the splits to rob Josh Bailey on a first-period slam dunk was as good as Lundqvist has made all year.
Alain Vigneault spoke glowingly of Marc Staal prior to the start of the game, then Staal goes out and backs up his coach's words with a big-time two-way performance. Extremely active in the offensive end, Staal picked up two assists, including the primary on Derick Brassard's game-winner, and finished a plus-two. In his own end Staal used his long reach to break up passes and deflect shots all night long, something Lundqvist has spoken about quite a bit when asked about Staal several times in the past week. Once again healthy, Staal logged 22:43 and is showing why he is such an incredibly important player to the Rangers.
Hard to go against Brassard as the Rangers Third Star. He led all players with eight shots on goal, and was consistently up in the play trying to make things happen. Of course he also scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal late in the third period, and he did it by driving to the net. His reputation always was as a softer player who did not like the dirty areas of the ice, one who preferred finesse over physical play, but Brassard has played with somewhat of an edge this season, and I always like to see him go to the net as he did on the GWG.