"We're not going to win a 1-0 hockey game tonight," the Rangers' coach said prior to Thursday's game against Vancouver.
Ah, but the Rangers indeed did win a hockey game 1-0 Thursday night at Madison Square Garden as they rode Wojtek Wolski's first goal for his new team and 31 saves by Henrik Lundqvist to a rare regulation win over the Canucks. It was Lundqvist's sixth shutout of the season and 30th of his career.
New York became the first team to hand the Canucks a regulation loss since St. Louis did it on Dec. 5. The Canucks were 14-0-3 since that 3-2 loss to the Blues, but they couldn't solve Lundqvist or outwork the home team Thursday.
"I'm willing to eat those words, I tell you," Tortorella said to open his post-game press conference.
Marian Gaborik nearly gave the Rangers the insurance goal with 7:35 to play in the third period, but Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider stoned the slumping Slovak on a breakaway to keep the deficit to just one goal.
Turns out Gaborik didn't need to score because save for a couple of penalties, the Rangers played arguably their most efficient game of the season considering the status of the opponent.
"You know, we're a good team," said Rangers center Brian Boyle, who outside of Lundqvist might have been the star of the game with his three blocked shots and all-important role of helping stop the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows. "We've got confidence and we've come back a few times, too. It's good to hold on to a lead against a good team."
Boyle's line, including Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko, was challenged shortly after the game began with shutting down the Sedins and Burrows. With the help of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, the five-man group did a number on the Canucks' top line, holding Henrik, Daniel and Burrows to a combined six shots on goal.
"Brian Boyle -- he hung himself out there tonight," Tortorella said. "He had a huge impact in the game tonight."
New York's young defense -- the youngest in the League with an average age of 24-plus -- played a strong positional game and as a team the Rangers were credited with 24 blocked shots. Tortorella was particularly impressed with the "arrogance" and "strut" that rookie Ryan McDonagh played with. He also liked Matt Gilroy's presence at the right point on the power play.
"It was a good answer for us," Tortorella said, referring back to the Rangers' disappointing 2-1 loss to Montreal here on Tuesday night. "That Montreal game was a tough loss. We came back and answered tonight the way that we need to play. I don't think we went in the backdoor. I think we played the game we need to play."
As the minutes started to tick off in the third period, the Rangers didn't try anything fancy; they just dumped the puck in and forced the Canucks to chase it in the wrong direction.
Canucks forward Mason Raymond admitted it was frustrating to play that style, especially when they were trying to push for the equalizer.
"Then they were pressuring us in our zone, too," Raymond told NHL.com. "That's tough to play against."
"That's how good teams play, and we expect nothing less from them," Daniel Sedin added. "We play the same way when we have the lead, too. We couldn't get our feet going and our forecheck -- we didn't have a forecheck today."
Most important, it was the Rangers' work on the penalty kill late in the second period that kept Vancouver off the board -- and, for all intents and purposes, gave the Rangers reason to believe winning 1-0 was possible going into the third period.
They killed off a 5-on-3 for 47 seconds and held the Canucks to just four shots over the balance of the overlapping power plays thanks to a tripping call on Staal and a delay of game on Chris Drury.
Vancouver managed just one shot during the 5-on-3, and the Rangers got two huge blocks by Boyle, who appeared to get stung when he threw his body in front of Ryan Kesler's blast from the point with 3:11 to play in the period. Boyle was joined on the kill by Brandon Dubinsky and Girardi, and they shut down Kesler, the Sedins, Mikael Samuelsson and Alex Edler.
By the time New York finished killing off the remaining 73 seconds on Drury's minor for delay of game the crowd was standing and cheering.
"Grinded it out," Staal said.
Prior to the kill, New York's slumping power play (1-for-22 in its last seven games) came to life with Wolski slamming home his first goal with his new team. Manny Malhotra was in the box for hooking down Artem Anisimov on his way to the net when Wolski banged in a pinballing puck from the low slot 8:18 into period. Dubinsky got the puck on net after Wolski won the draw in the right circle. The puck came out to Gaborik, whose rebound attempt hit the post. It then came back in front of the net and Wolski was able to bang it in.
"I don't know if it's a weight off my shoulders," Wolski said of scoring his first goal in just his second game as a Ranger, "but I'm happy it happened earlier rather than later."
Who knew it would be all the Rangers would need against the best team in the NHL?
Certainly not their coach, who was happy to poke fun at his pregame prediction.
"You guys are going to make me eat (my words) aren't you," Tortorella joked to the reporters in the room. "I was praying they'd tie it up and we'd win it 2-1 in OT."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
|Derek Stepan Tripping against Mikael Samuelsson|
|Mason Raymond Hooking against Dan Girardi|
|Manny Malhotra Hooking against Artem Anisimov|
|Ryan Kesler Cross checking against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Marc Staal Tripping against Alexandre Burrows|
|Chris Drury Delaying Game-Puck over glass|