Throughout the summer, The Hockey Writers will count down the ten best regular season games, and the five best playoff games from the New York Rangers 2011-12 season. The Rangers won 51 games and recorded 109 points in 2011-12, and won the Atlantic Division for the first time since the 1993-94 season.
The 10th best game of the Rangers’ 2011-12 season took place on October 18th, 2011, when the Rangers played the Vancouver Canucks.
With Madison Square Garden undergoing renovations, the Rangers were forced to deal with a heavy travel schedule during the first month of the season. After opening the season with two games in Europe, the Rangers traveled back to New York to play the Islanders, before embarking on a four-game trip through Western Canada.
After going 0-1-2 in their first three games, four games in Western Canada was the last thing the Rangers needed. A bad road trip meant that the Rangers would have to dig themselves out of a hole in the standings before even playing their first home game of the season. It certainly didn’t help that the first game of the road trip was against the Canucks, who won the Presidents Trophy the year before and went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010-11.
In what would kickstart a Vezina-winning season for Lundqvist, the Rangers goaltender stood tall against the Canucks’ vaunted offense. His first test came two minutes into the first period, when he robbed Alex Burrows on two point-blank chances right in front of the net.
Despite being outshot 13-5 in the first period, the Rangers were able to head to the locker room with the game still scoreless. The second period brought more of the same for the Broadway Blueshirts, as they were shorthanded three times in the middle frame, and once again had to rely on their goaltender to bail them out.
Through two periods, the Canucks had outshot the Rangers 28-9. In addition to the shots that Lundqvist stopped, the Canucks had fired another 31 shots that either went wide of the net or were blocked by a Ranger in front of ‘King Henrik.’
While the Rangers were able to get sustained pressure on the Canucks defense and goaltender Roberto Luongo, they finally broke through. Just over two minutes into the third period, Michael Del Zotto took a wrist shot from the top of the left circle that was stopped by Luongo. After making the initial save, the Canucks’ goaltender left a juicy rebound in front of the net, and Mike Rupp buried the rebound chance for his first goal as a Ranger.
After Rupp’s goal, the Canucks increased the pressure on Lundqvist, but the Rangers’ goaltender was unrelenting. Within a minute of Rupp giving the Rangers the 1-0, Lundqvist made four difficult saves in seven seconds, the first of which was a point-blank chance from Alex Edler from five feet outside of the goal crease.
Near the midway point of the period, the Rangers added to their lead. After the Canucks failed to clear the puck out of their own zone, Ryan McDonagh and Brandon Dubinsky worked a nifty give-and-go, with McDonagh firing a one-timer by Luongo’s blocker.
Less than two minutes after McDonagh’s goal, the Rangers struck again. A 3-on-1 breakout turned into a partial breakaway for Brian Boyle, and the Rangers’ center beat Luongo with a wrist shot over his blocker. Marian Gaborik added a goal with 2:21 remaining, and the four-goal third period gave the Rangers their first win of the 2011-12 season.
Despite the offensive explosion in the third period, nobody lost sight that Lundqvist was the best player on the ice in the 4-0 win. The Rangers were outshot 40-19, and if it wasn’t for Lundqvist’s play early in the game, the Rangers would not have had a chance to beat the Canucks.
In his post-game comments, Lundqvist talked about how the Rangers’ struggles in the first three games of the season helped him prepare for the game in Vancouver. “It’s been tough not getting any wins the first few games, and we’ve been close,” Lundqvist said. “I kind of took that as motivation going into this game.”
In addition to getting the first win of the season, a new tradition was born amongst the Rangers players. Lundqvist was presented with a fedora, one which the Rangers had brought back with them from their trip to Europe. “They call it our Broadway hat,” Lundqvist said. “I don t mind. I want to wear it after every game.” The hat would be given out to a Rangers player after each of the team’s 51 regular season wins and 10 playoff wins during the season.
Don’t forget to come back and find out which game from the 2011-12 regular season will be #9 on the countdown.