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Top line gives Rangers reason to cheer

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers alternate captain Ryan Callahan looks for a rebound against Carolina's Cam Ward on Friday at MSG. A hot Callahan, who has thrived on the Blueshirts' top line, beat Ward in the second period and now has goals in three consecutive games.

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The Rangers might be without their leading scorer from a year ago, but that doesn’t mean the team is lacking for a potent No. 1 line in Marian Gaborik’s absence.

With Artem Anisimov centering wingers Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, and the threesome delivering on a consistent basis ever since opening night in Buffalo, the Rangers have had a go-to line that they can rely on game-in and game-out even with Gaborik sidelined by a separated shoulder.

The latest opportunity for Anisimov’s line to come through was during the Blueshirts’ 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.

Callahan scored a goal and added an assist, the fifth consecutive game that he has recorded at least one point. Dubinsky scored his team-leading fifth goal of the season. And Anisimov notched an assist to give him seven points in nine games this season.

“They continue to be our best and most consistent line night after night,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said. “I liked a lot of what I saw from our team (Friday) night. There are things we have to fix, but there are a lot of good things there.”

Not only did that line put up points on Friday night, but they created numerous scoring chances through their contagious hard work. And the goals they were a part of were extremely important and well-timed.

With the Rangers trailing 2-0 early in the second period, Callahan positioned himself in front of ‘Canes goalie Cam Ward during a Blueshirts power play. Callahan partially screened Ward on Anisimov’s shot and then the Rangers alternate captain batted the rebound out of midair and into the back of the cage for his third goal of the season, and third in as many games.

Not only did Callahan’s score pull the Rangers within a goal of Carolina, but it brought The Garden crowd back to life.

“I’m getting chances and they are starting to go in for me,” said Callahan. “Guys like Artie and Dubi are setting me up pretty good, so it’s not too hard to bury those. But unfortunately we didn’t get the win (Friday) night.”

Eight minutes after Callahan’s goal, Marc Staal beat Ward to the short side from left wing for another power play goal and the Rangers pulled even 2-2.

However, Carolina’s 18 year-old rookie Jeff Skinner scored his second goal of the night at 13:19 of the second period, just 55 seconds after Staal had tied the game, and once again the home team found itself behind on the scoreboard.

Rangerss forward Brandon Dubinsky has been strong with and without the puck, adding a key component to the Rangers' top line of late. Here he introduces Carolina's Joni Pitkanen to The Garden's boards.
Worse for the Anisimov line was the fact that they were on the ice for Skinner’s goal. But they sought payback almost immediately, and earned it a bit more than two minutes later when Dubinsky -- off a Callahan head-man pass -- blasted a right-wing shot past Ward to the stick side, tying the game 3-3.

Yet again the top line had answered the call when the Rangers needed a big play.

“They have been really good offensively, forechecking well, creating chances,” Staal said of the No. 1 forward line. “Unfortunately (Friday) night, in the end, the bounces were slipping by us.”

Tortorella put the three young homegrown Rangers together at the end of training camp, and the only time that Anisimov, Callahan, and Dubinsky have been separated from one another was during Wednesday’s 6-4 Garden loss to Atlanta when Anisimov injured his ankle and was forced out of the game after blocking a shot.

When an MRI exam showed no damage to Anisimov’s ankle on Thursday, Tortorella wasted no time in reuniting the talented threesome for Friday’s contest with Carolina.

“Artie belongs on that line and I wanted them back together if he was healthy enough to play,” said Tortorella.

With his two points on Friday, Callahan now leads the team with 10 (three goals, 7 assists) on the season. Dubinsky is second on the team with nine points (five goals, four assists) and Anisimov (three goals and four assists) is tied with Sean Avery and Michal Rozsival for third place at seven points.

That is an impressive total of 26 points in the first nine games of the season for the Rangers’ No. 1 line.

“Artie has really grown up as a player this season, and Cally is Cally, you know what you get from him ever night,” said Dubinsky. “It’s fun playing with those guys.”

Friday’s game was ultimately decided in Carolina’s favor on Erik Cole’s power play goal with 3:59 left to play. The game-winning goal came just one minute after Callahan was denied by Ward on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush with Dubinsky.

“I looked at Dubi, but the defenseman was playing him pretty hard, so I brought (the puck) to the middle and tried to take a good shot, but (Ward) made a good save on me,” explained Callahan.

The next opportunity for the Rangers’ emerging top line to shine will be Saturday night when the Blueshirts skate up in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
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