— The look on Brandon Dubinsky
's face as he came off the ice told the New York Rangers
' story on Wednesday.
It was a look of exhaustion coupled with a smile befitting elation, and maybe even a little smirk of confidence. Mostly, though, the entire three-second deep breath Dubinsky let out was more of relief than anything else.
The Rangers survived the Russians. The NHL has the bragging rights.
"I know if we would have lost there would have been a lot of questions," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal
said, "and they'd be bragging a lot."
The Rangers and the entire NHL don't have to worry about that anymore.
After being down three goals late in the second period, the Rangers managed to mount a dramatic comeback. Ryan Callahan
's breakaway goal with 20 seconds left in regulation capped a memorable night as the Rangers beat Russian powerhouse Metallurg Magnitogorsk 4-3 to win the first-ever Victoria Cup in front of 13,794 at PostFinance Arena.
"It's definitely a lot better than losing, a lot," Staal said. "It is a relief, but we just wanted to play a real solid game and we did that. We showed a lot of character."
Other than relief, the buzzwords coming out of the Rangers’ dressing room late Wednesday night in Switzerland were character and confidence.
When you boil it down to the basics, the Victoria Cup game was still only an exhibition for the Rangers — their last one before the regular season opens Saturday in Prague against Tampa Bay with the Bridgestone NHL Premiere.
With that in mind, the Rangers now can enter the regular season on a high. That they don't have to listen to hockey fans around the world bragging that a European club beat the big, bad NHLers — well, that makes the win doubly special.
"It's great that we were down 3-0," said Rangers forward Dan Fritsche
, whose goal 5:45 into the third period sliced the deficit to 3-2. "It's great that we came back and won the game like we did. It's very, very good for our team going into the regular season. It's going to build a lot of character and chemistry. I don't think you could honestly ask for a better outcome for us now."
The confidence Callahan now takes into the regular season is beyond anybody's expectations. He was the Ranger who provided the heroics.
Callahan picked off a sloppy pass by defenseman Vladimir Malenkikh at Metallurg's blue line and came in alone on goalie Andrei Mezin
. He faked a shot with his backhand, brought the puck to his forehand and managed to wrap the puck around Mezin's outstretched left leg for the game-winning goal.
It looked like a shootout move. It deserves to get a lot of hits on YouTube.
"I was just forechecking the D-man there and I noticed he wasn't going up the wall with it, that he was going to go D-to-D," Callahan said. "I was lucky enough to pick it off. Coming in on that goalie, I just made a move and went for it. I don't know if it was a shootout move, but he was playing me out a little bit so I faked the shot and was lucky enough to get around him."
Metallurg struck early on a brilliant slap shot by Denis Platonov
just 1:28 into the game. Platonov shot the puck behind defenseman Dan Girardi
and into a small window in the top right corner. Henrik Lundqvist
said he saw the shot, but his glove was too slow.
Already, every player on Metallurg's bench was standing up.
Nearly 17 minutes later, Malenkikh made it 2-0 with a power-play goal on a long shot that Lundqvist got a piece of but couldn't stop. The Rangers actually controlled a lot of the play in the first period, but they gave Metallurg three power plays while failing on their only advantage.
The Rangers handed Metallurg another power play midway through the second period, and again the Russian team capitalized, again with their bench standing in unison. This time, Nikolai Zavarukhin
, stationed in the high slot, scored on a tip-in of Vitali Atyushov
's point shot at 10:20.
"Not we," Lundqvist said. "I had a rough start."
Things were looking bleak for the Rangers. The Metallurg fans, who were boisterous throughout, were falling over themselves in the stands. No doubt, their dream of beating the NHL was coming true.
However, there was still half the game to play.
"In the second period, we talked about how all we had to do was stay out of the box," Fritsche said.
"They have a very good power play, and we knew if we worked hard and played our game by dumping it in and hitting them they would get frustrated and they would take the penalties. That's what we did."
Metallurg cooperated by doing exactly what the Rangers thought they would do.
The Russian team gifted the Rangers a 5-on-3 with just 32 seconds to play in the period. New York needed only nine seconds to score its first goal. Chris Drury
, doing his best Tomas Holmstrom
impersonation, stuffed home a centering pass from Nikolai Zherdev
to give the Rangers a jolt of life.
"That was big," Drury said. "It changed our mindset, changed our tone. We got one, and you know the next one makes it real interesting. That was a big goal."
Fritsche got the next one early in the second period, and now the Rangers were cooking, they were buzzing — and Metallurg was taking more penalties.
Drury, again stationed in front of the net and looking like Holmstrom, scored another power-play goal to make it 3-3 with 9:47 to play. Scott Gomez
's shot from the left circle got through and the rebound came right to Drury, who slammed it in.
Now it was the Rangers' players who were standing up on the bench — and the game had taken on a whole new aura. It wasn't a preseason game any longer — and maybe it really never was. The Rangers were playing for keeps, for pride, for the victory, for the trophy.
They were wearing out the Russian team out. Metallurg took another penalty just 30 seconds after Drury's goal. They had to contest with the Rangers' energy line of Callahan, Petr Prucha
and Lauri Korpikoski
, who were all mucking it up in front of Mezin.
Callahan and Metallurg defenseman Karel Pilar
were sent off with matching roughing minors at 13:37.
The 4-on-4 came and went, and still the Rangers were buzzing. Finally, with regulation to time running out, Malenkikh tried to pass the puck across instead of up the ice — and Callahan read the play beautifully. He stepped in like a cornerback, picked it off and raced to the end zone.
One gorgeous move later, the Rangers were celebrating, the Victoria Cup was theirs. One gorgeous move later, the weight of the North American hockey world lifted off of the Rangers' shoulders.
It's time for the regular season now. Off to Prague they go, a relieved team chock full of confidence and character.
They couldn't ask for anything more.
"I think we should have won the game, and we did," Lundqvist said. "I think we were the better team. They got some easy goals the first period and made it tough on us. That's on me, but the way we came back in this game was great to see. I think we learned a lot. It gave us confidence moving forward, and now we don't have to hear about it."