JIM: It may have been Henrik Lundqvist's night as far as celebrating his career accomplishments prior to the game and earning another victory on the ice, but there is no question whatsoever that Ryan McDonagh was the No. 1 Star on the night. The Mac Truck played more than 29 minutes, was his typical beast self in the defensive zone, had the primary assists on both goals that tied the game--Derick Brassard's 2-2 score in the second and Dan Girardi's goal that made it 3-3 late in the third, and, of course, scored the game-winner 1:56 into overtime. McMonster, as my friend Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News likes to call him, showed Monday yet again that he is has become one of the top all-around defensemen in the National Hockey League. By adding the offensive component to his game, McDonagh is an elite player at both ends of the ice, and has become, arguably, the second most important player on this team, behind only Lundqvist. McDonagh now has a career-high 42 points which is 11th most among all NHL defensemen; and of the d-men ahead of him in points only Chicago's Duncan Keith and Nashville's Shea Weber are in his class as a shutdown defenseman. Nice company Mac Truck keeps.
Dan Girardi is my selection as the Rangers Second Star on Monday. Like McDonagh he was extremely solid in his own end, logged a lot of minutes (28:17), and played a major role in the offensive game by scoring the tying goal and assisting on McDonagh's overtime winner. Girardi and I joked about his being to the side of the net for the redirection that tied the score late in the third period as it's not usually a spot where you find this more defensive-minded d-man, but boy did he pick a great time to go there. And his hard, low shot in overtime was perfect because it was accurate, on goal, and created a rebound since there was no way Thomas Greiss could catch the puck or stop it in any way.
After the game Alain Vigneault praised Brad Richards, saying Monday may have been one of his best games of the season. No argument here. With Derek Stepan ailing Richards picked up the slack at center and played nearly 22 minutes, excelling at both ends of the ice in a real two-way tour-de-force. Richards scored the team's first goal--his first in 11 games, was a +3 like McDonagh and Girardi, and played a big role on the game-winning goal even though he did not receive an assist on the play.
MATT: Impossible to argue that last night's top gun was McDonagh, for all the reasons you've stated, Jim. I've said this to several people, but in my opinion, there hasn't been a more fun player to watch this season than Ryan McDonagh. We've known for about two years now how good he was in his own end, but as Richards said in the postgame, we're now seeing the leash come off No. 27 offensively, as he's been given the freedom to join the rush more and of course get power play time, something he hadn't been give in previous years. That's obviously paid off in a big way. Despite watching him over parts of the last four seasons, I'm still amazed by what a strong skater he is, and just how good he is with his stick. McDonagh's vision was aparent on the game-winning goal, as he saw the open ice in the slot and took the risk he knew he had to take to get himself into a position to score. This has certainly been McDonagh's coming out season.
I'll agree with you on No. 2, Dan Girardi, who picked a perfect time to snap a scoring drought. Like McDonagh, Girardi made a smart but risky decision to pinch up near the Phoenix net, but with the Blueshirts down a goal, offense is what they needed, and No. 5 gave it. That had to be one of the few, if not the first, deflection goal of Girardi's career. At first I had to make sure I saw it right on the scoreboard. As always, Girardi was great in his own zone, as he finished with a plus-3 rating in more than 28 minutes of ice time.
My third star goes to Derick Brassard, who has been fantastic during this four-game winning streak since he snapped his own slump last week in Ottawa. He's just been playing with a fire that I felt was missing during his drought, but is back burning bright. He's hard on the puck, is shooting and also making plays with his world-class vision. You just felt that goal coming last night, as the Rangers were just swarming the Coyotes, and what a goal it was to complete the two-goal comeback. Brassard's initial shot was blocked, but he stayed with it and fired a perfect high, wrist shot past Mike Smith. Brassard now has four goals in as many games.