JIM: Even before he made the sweet pass on Derek Stepan's game-winning goal late in the third period, Martin St. Louis was the best Ranger on the ice against the Hurricanes. He generated so many of the team's Grade A scoring chances--either for himself or for others. St. Louis said after the game that he is still feeling his way, and that he and his teammates need to figure one another out over time--and that showed on the team's early power play chances--but for someone "feeling his way" St. Louis certainly was a difference maker out there. He set up Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot for prime scoring opportunities, and also took a Zuccarello feed in the second and snaked a quick shot on goal that required a terrific save by Anton Khudobin. St. Louis tied for the team lead with five shots on goal, logged nearly 19 minutes of ice time, and oh yeah did I mention he made that patient and sweet pass to Stepan that helped win the game? Imagine what happens when St. Louis starts to feel comfortable?
My Second Star of Friday's game for the Rangers is defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who not only gave a monster defensive effort over a team-high 25:21, but who scored yet another clutch goal--his career-high 11th of the season. Not to take his stout play in his own end for granted, but that shorthanded goal McDonagh scored--his second such goal in the past two games and team-best third shortie this season--was so important to the Rangers, really helped their psyche after Khudobin had stymied them over 47 minutes of play. Another clutch moment for a player who makes them regularly at both ends of the ice. You just feel that McDonagh could be one of the Rangers Three Stars after each and every game. That's how good and how consistent he has been this season.
There are so many worthy Rangers for the Third Star honors--Carl Hagelin was a dynamo playing alongside St. Louis and did score an empty-netter to ice the game, Derek Stepan had two points and scored the game-winner, and Rick Nash scored the game-tying goal and finished with two points--but I am going with Mats Zuccarello. When Alain Vigneault said postgame that Zucc did not miss a beat despite missing four games with a fracture in his hand, he wasn't kidding. Zuccarello looked terrific, skating well, making a string of gorgeous passes that led to scoring chances, and very nearly scoring a pair of goals himself--in both instances going hard to the net and crashing into Khudobin, only to have video review wipe out both potential scores. Zuccarello finished with an assist, three shots on goal, and three hits in 18:19, and showed yet again why he has become such a valuable Blueshirt this season.
MATT: Can't deny your decision for St. Louis, who has played very well in the two games he's been in New York. The chemistry between he and Brad Richards is there, even after all their years apart. St. Louis just doesn't stop moving when he's on the ice, always looking for open space and he fires the puck whenever he gets the opportunity. I thought his postgame comments showed the type of person the Rangers have acquired. He was talking about playoffs and needing to be calm on that big 5-on-3. Everyone knows how good he is on the ice, but those comments to me showed the type of person the Rangers acquired in the dressing room. He's a proven winner and he showed last night that he's the type of player who steps up in the big moment. That pass to Stepan was beautiful, one not every player coud make.
My second star goes to McDonagh as well, who notched another short-handed goal, his second in as many games. He's turned the corner from just a very good shutdown defenseman to a very good two-way defenseman who is scoring on a consistent basis. As you said, his goal was so important at such an important time. Instead of a two-goal swing against with Carolina on the man-advantage, McDonagh got the score evened up with an absolute blast through Khudobin. McDonagh had four shots and another four attempts in more than 25 minutes of ice time.
My third star goes to Rick Nash, who since the Olympics has added a dimension to his game through penalty killing that I'd never seen before. That, in my opinion, adds another weapon to the Rangers' arsenal, which he showed last night. Being on the PK forces the opposition to keep an eye on him, which he exposed last night by picking up an assist on McDonagh's shortie. Soon after the Rangers fell behind again in the third period, Nash scored the equalized on a bit of a lucky goal, but at the same time, it wasn't. Nash saw John Moore breaking to the net and fired a hard shot/pass that caught a skate and went into the net. Nash was dangerous all night with five shots and another four attempts to go along with a hit and two takeaways in 17:22 of ice time.