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Rangers' identity all about hard work

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Ryan Callahan's relentless work-ethic earned him his first goal of the season on Sunday night and continued to play a big role in forging what has already clearly become the 2010-11 Blueshirts' identity as an extremely hard-working NHL team.

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To a man, after their passionate and hard-fought victory in Toronto on Thursday night, the Rangers said that the win would mean little if it were not followed up by similar efforts in ensuing games.

Looking back now, that game in Toronto seems to have been the jumping off point for what the Rangers’ team identity is going to look like this season.

Sunday’s 3-1 victory over the Devils at Madison Square Garden played out in similar fashion as Saturday’s 3-2 win in Boston and the 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs on Thursday. As a result, the Rangers have a three-game winning streak, as well as a more clear understanding of what it is going to take to be successful this season.

“We have talked a lot about just trying to continue to create an identity of how we are going to play and who we are as a team,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “Along the way when you build that and you get some wins, I think it’s an easier sell as far as what we want to do as a hockey club, how we are going to play the game.”

How the Rangers want to play the game is in aggressive fashion, featuring puck possession, control in all three zones of play -- most notably the neutral zone -- with composure at critical times, strong special teams play, and backstopped by reliable goaltending.

On Sunday, for the third time in the past four nights, the Rangers accomplished these goals as to how they want to play. And to hear the players and coach talk about it, this identity cannot be a special thing. It has to be habit, what is expected from one another on a game-in, game-out basis for the entire season in order to achieve success as a team.

“This is the way we have to play, and everyone is doing it, so if you don’t do it you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb out there,” said winger Sean Avery, who played another inspired game on Sunday. “We’re trying to model ourselves after a team that has won, and done it for a long time. That’s winning three or five games in a row, and not losing two in a row.”

At the core of the identity the Rangers want to build is an unmatched work-ethic. That was in evidence again on Sunday, and was rewarded when two of the team’s hardest-working and most consistent players -- Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky -- each scored a goal and added an assist while playing more than 22 minutes apiece on the second night of back-to-back games.

“I think we are definitely starting to build an identity through this team, and that doesn’t come with one game or one weekend, but it comes with a full season,” said Callahan, who scored the game-winning goal at 12:22 of the second period. “It’s a good start for us to come together, and shows that once everyone is on the same page we are a tough team to beat.”

With injuries keeping three key veteran forwards out of the Rangers lineup for an extended period, Callahan, Dubinsky, and second-year center Artem Anisimov have stepped forward to grab more minutes and to play in more key situations. All three players have been at the heart of the identity the Blueshirts are seeking to build, and all three have excelled over the first seven games of the season.

With some key players out of the lineup, Brandon Dubinsky has stepped up his game playing left wing on the top line. Dubinsky had a goal and an assist on Sunday and was named the game's No. 3 star.
Callahan -- whose all-around play has been an inspiration so far this year -- scored his first goal of the season when he redirected Dubinsky’s patient, and perfect, centering pass past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur midway through the second period, giving the Rangers a 2-0 lead at the time.

The goal came as a relief to Callahan, who had done everything else imaginable for the club up until Sunday except score a goal.

“I was hoping it was going to come this year,” Callahan said jokingly of his next goal. “It wears on you, but obviously you want to do what you can to contribute in all ways. But it’s nice, always nice, to get that first one.”

Michal Rozsival, who logged nearly 23 minutes of ice-time on Sunday, just 24 hours after receiving 27 minutes of ice time on Saturday, opened the scoring for the Rangers by blasting a right-point slap shot through a screen in front for his second goal of the season 1:26 into the second period. Rozsival also assisted on Callahan’s goal to give him six points (2-4-6) in seven games.

After Ilya Kovalchuk slipped a rebound past Henrik Lundqvist with 5:52 remaining in the third period to cut the Rangers lead in half, Dubinsky iced the Blueshirts’ first win on home ice this season by sailing a long shot into an empty net with one second left on the clock for his team-leading fourth goal.

“We talk about it all the time how important every (standings) point is whether it’s October or April, but especially with  the key guys out it’s important to get as many points as we can,” said Dubinsky. “Right now we are doing that. We’ve just got to continue.”

Situated between the goal scoring was a superb goaltenders duel between Lundqvist and Brodeur, not such a surprise any time the Rangers and Devils meet. Lundqvist made 27 saves and was particularly strong when the desperate Devils turned up the heat in the third period. Brodeur was very sharp, as well, finishing with 31 saves, including 17 in the first period when the home team really dominated play.

“His best game, so far, was (Saturday) night, but (Sunday) night when we needed him he was right there,” Tortorella said of Lundqvist. “Hank certainly cemented it for us the way he played the last half of the (third) period.”

Three straight gritty and passionate victories in the books, the Rangers will look to grow their game and identity even more when they host the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday night at The Garden. That game will kick off another three-games-in-four-nights stretch which continues Friday at home against the Carolina Hurricanes and concludes Saturday up in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
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