If you want to know how New York Rangers coach John Tortorella feels about his new call-ups from the Connecticut Whale, consider who was on the ice for the final minute of a 2-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
With the Flyers having pulled goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for a sixth attacker and the Rangers trying to protect the lead and complete a shutout for No.1 star Henrik Lundqvist, Tortorella sent out veteran John Mitchell and rookie Carl Hagelin with new linemate Brian Boyle. The trio helped kill off precious seconds, and Lundqvist made two of his 29 saves for his second shutout of the season and 40th of his NHL career, as a Madison Square Garden sellout crowd roared its approval in a preview of the 2012 NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2.
It was the sixth consecutive home win for the Rangers (12-5-3), with Hagelin notching his first NHL goal at 5:06 of the third period off assists from Mitchell and former Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman Ryan McDonaugh. In their Rangers debuts Friday, Mitchell and Hagelin assisted on Boyle’s winner in a 6-3 victory over the Washington Capitals.
“There were a lot of emotions and obviously such a great feeling,” said Hagelin, who converted his own rebound off a McDonagh shot and was awarded the “Broadway Hat” as player of the game by his teammates. “To be able to score my first NHL goal here, at MSG, is pretty amazing. “There’s such a great crowd here, and they really love their team. They’re probably the best fans in the world.”
“You always get that juice when you come (up from Hartford),” Tortorella said after the Rangers improved to 6-1-1 at MSG, their best eight-game start at home since going 6-1-1 to begin the 1992-93 season. “(Hagelin) has got the right attitude. I read one of his comments today, he just wants to go play. You can’t overthink, and he puts himself in great spots, in getting to pucks and doing the right things because of his legs.
“And Mitch has played in this league and he’s done some really good things on the wall, too. So you keep on working with them, and it’s exciting to have kids come up and it’s a little bit seamless right in the first two games here. … I think Ken Gernander and that group down there with the minor league team deserves a lot of credit because (Hagelin) is not only fast, but he’s playing smart also. Both him and Mitch have added to us right away these two games.”
Former Rangers defenseman and captain Dave Maloney, who is a commentator for MSG Radio, was equally effusive about the newcomers and Whale coaching staff.
“Last year, Ryan McDonagh had a pretty good training camp and finds himself starting the season in Hartford, then after (38 games) comes up and becomes a real player,” Maloney said during the postgame show. “I think you can credit with what goes in Hartford with Kenny Gernander, J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller and the job that they continue to do. Mitchell and Hagelin have come in and stepped right in and been factors the last two games.
“It sends a message to Hartford that when you’re playing well, we’re paying attention. And it also tells the guys in the Blueshirts that, hey, if I’m not doing my job than I better be careful because there could be somebody who gets called up to replace me. So it’s that two-fold of getting excited about the younger players but hoping the vets can be involved, too. It keeps you on your toes.”
Hagelin has also impressed McDonagh, another product of the Whale coaching staff after starting last season in Hartford and now being on the Rangers’ No. 1 defensive pairing with former Wolf Pack defenseman Dan Girardi.
“He’s really stepped in and done quite a job,” McDonagh told Maloney after getting the primary assist on Hagelin’s goal and leading all skaters with a career-high six blocked shots. “He uses his speed and goes to the net like he did on his goal.”
After the Whale scored the final three goals, two by Andreas Thuresson including the winner with 21.6 seconds left for a 3-2 victory over the Springfield Falcons on Saturday night, Gernander said he was happy that Mitchell and Hagelin had stepped in and performed so well so quickly on Broadway after being first (14 points) and tied for second (13) in team scoring, respectively, when called up Thursday night.
“It’s great to see them go in and have an impact,” Gernander said. “We know what they did for our club being the leading scorers and were obviously pretty big elements in all areas – 5-on-5, being on the top line, the power play and killing penalties. So they had a pretty big role on our team and obviously did it quite successfully at our level.”
Gernander added that Mitchell, and Hagelin, who played five playoff games with the Whale in April after co-captaining Michigan to the NCAA title game, had done more than just put points on the board while playing 11:51 and 10:55, respectively, an increase in ice time for both from Friday.
“A lot of people like to measure somebody’s impact strictly numerically, but it’s nice that they had a decent role on the club,” Gernander said.
The Flyers were without former Hartford Whalers defenseman Chris Pronger, former Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk because of illness and injuries. None of their ailments are long-term, so they should be back in time for the Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The teams will have their second of six meetings and last one before the Winter Classic at MSG on Dec. 23.
On HBO’s preview of “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic” that aired Friday night, both teams spoke openly about their dislike for each other, and they backed up the words in a big way Saturday in front of a raucous sellout of 18,200. Rangers feisty left wing Brandon Prust got into his first of two first-period fights only four seconds into the game with Flyers tough guy Zac Rinaldo. Rangers captain and former Wolf Pack right wing Ryan Callahan and Flyers leading scorer and early-season Hart Trophy candidate Claude Giroux both tumbled to the ice after a hard collision in the neutral zone. When Rinaldo and Wayne Simmonds weren’t scrapping with Prust, they were jawing with the Rangers’ Sean Avery. And the Flyers’ Danny Briere cross-checked Michael Del Zotto in the mouth during a battle along the wall in the second period.
There also was plenty of chippiness and chirping after most whistles. Neither team said it had to do with the upcoming Winter Classic, it was just another unpleasant meeting between two teams that share a mild hatred for each other.
“They’re always usually pretty intense,” Callahan said. “A lot of bodies were thrown, a couple fights in the first period. Maybe that was a little more than usual, but I think that’s how you get yourself into a game after a back-to-back where you maybe you don’t have the same energy as you would for a normal game. You have to give a hit or take a hit to get into it.”
Brad Richards’ power-play goal off a pass from former Wolf Pack defenseman Dan Girardi at 54 seconds of the second period was the winner as the Rangers improved to a NHL-best 11-1-0 when scoring first and have outscored the opposition 22-7 during their six-game home winning streak, holding opponents to one goal or less four times. The Rangers have won their last three games against the Flyers by a 12-2 aggregate and have shut out Philadelphia in the last two meetings at MSG. They outshot the Flyers 32-29 and remain the only NHL team that’s undefeated when out-shooting their opponent (6-0-0).
The Rangers are off until Tuesday night, when they host the league-leading Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby, who played his first game Monday night since Jan. 5 because of post-concussion symptoms.
THURESSON SCORES TWO HUGE GOALS
Thuresson, acquired in the offseason for Brodie Dupont, parlayed two fortuitous bounces into tying and winning goals.
After defenseman Pavel Valentenko’s laser from the top of the left circle off assists from Mats Zuccarello and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault got the Whale to 2-1 with 5:37 left in the second period, Thuresson took a pass from Audy-Marchessault and fired a bad-angle shot from below the right circle that got through Falcons goalie Danny Taylor to tie it at 5:09 of the third.
Then, after Taylor stopped Audy-Marchessault’s shorthanded breakaway and Whale goalie Chad Johnson (26 saves) made a diving stop on Ryan Russell’s backhander on the ensuing rush, Thuresson got the winner when jammed in a rebound of Stu Bickel’s shot from the right point that was tipped by Ryan Bourque on the way to Taylor (17 saves). Audy-Marchessault set the play in motion with a brilliant pass from the left circle to the point.
“I got some lucky bounces,” Thuresson said. “The first one I just had a good little passing with Audy-Marchessault and then just tried to shoot it as quick as possible on the net. We said we were going to shoot more pucks to the net, and I don’t think the goalie was ready for it so I just got a lucky bounce.
“(On the winner) we had a good forecheck going, and I passed it back to Bickel, who got a good shot on the net. Bourquey tipped it, and I just went to the net, the puck was loose and I just tried to swing it in.”
Thuresson hopes it’s the start of a more productive trend, especially with Mitchell and Hagelin with the Rangers and center Kris Newbury still having one more game to serve on a four-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Bridgeport Sound Tigers wing Justin DiBenedetto in a 3-2 overtime victory on Nov. 18.
“I felt like I had a little slow start and feel I’m getting a little better as I get more into the systems and into the games,” Thuresson said. “I’m playing more physical and playing my game, so I feel like I have a little better flow going now. There are a lot of guys out right now, and it’s good for the boys to get some chance to show off their game. We just have to keep on playing hard, shoot puck to the net and go hard to the net. There’s a lot of opportunity out there right now.”
Said Gernander: “He’s a guy who has been around the league a little bit, is experienced and is going to get more and more opportunity, so he should be looking to capitalize or cash in on it. It was big for him to get a pair.”
Greenwich native and former Avon Old Farms and Boston College standout Cam Atkinson had the game’s first goal, off assists from former Wolf Pack wing Alexandre Giroux and Nick Drazenovic, and assisted on Drazenovic’s power-play tally that gave the Falcons a 2-0 lead at 9:46 of the second period.
But after Johnson kept the Northeast Division-leading Whale (11-5-1-2) in the game, they rallied for the fourth time in five starts to improve to 3-0 against the Falcons (10-9-0-0).
“It was a pretty gutty win,” Gernander said. “We got outshot substantially in the first period (9-1 in opening 161/2 minutes), it was little closer in the second and then we just stayed with it in the third and found a way to get a win. They’ve been doing a lot of persevering in the third period of late, so it was a big win on the road for them.”
Newbury and injured defenseman Jared Nightingale again were the scratches for the Whale, who had seven defensemen and only 11 forwards, though veteran defenseman Brendan Bell played several shifts at forward, before Zuccarello moved from wing to the middle between Aaron Voros and Francois Bouchard in the third period.
“I told (Gernander) that I could play center because I played there when I was younger,” Zuccarello said. “We’ve got a bunch of key guys out, so we just have to make it up a little bit if different guys have to play different positions. I said I could give it a try, and we’ll see how it goes. If it doesn’t work, then he’ll just put me out (on wing). But it was a nice win. It’s nicer to win those games.”
Former Wolf Pack left wing and captain Dane Byers served the second game of his two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head in a 7-2 victory at Providence on Nov. 18. Other Falcons scratches were defensemen Theo Ruth and Anton Blomqvist and forwards Maksim Mayorov, Oliver Gabriel, Tim Spencer and former All-Star Martin St. Pierre, who was injured in a 5-1 loss at Adirondack and usually centers the top line with Giroux and Atkinson. … Believe it or not, the ceremonial first puck was dropped by a dog named Jack. And no, we’re not pulling your tail. Jack is owned by Gary Rome, who owns several Hyundai dealerships and is a major sponsor of the Falcons. Jack is the star of his owner’s commercial, barking as they come to an end. … The Whale return to the XL Center on Tuesday night to face Hershey in the first Bourque Brothers Bowl between the Whale’s Ryan and the Bears’ Chris.