NEW YORK, N.Y. – With the Pittsburgh Penguins lurking right behind him, the New York Rangers have gotten back to the winning ways that vaulted them to the top of the Eastern Conference.
After seeing a substantial lead whittled to just one point, as the Penguins went on a refuse-to-lose surge, the Rangers appear to have broken out their slump. They still have little room for error, but for now they are keeping Pittsburgh at arm’s length.
Ryan Callahan ripped a shot in off a goal post 2:42 into overtime to lift the Rangers over Detroit 2-1 on Wednesday night, sending the injury-riddled Red Wings to their sixth straight loss.
New York has gutted out two consecutive wins after a 2-5 swoon, just as the pressure has increased. The Rangers are 4-2 on a seven-game homestand that will end Friday against Buffalo.
“We’re starting to get our groove back,” Callahan said. “We’re starting to play how we want and how we were playing earlier in the year.”
One game after becoming the first team in the East—and second overall behind St. Louis—to secure a playoff spot, the Rangers (46-20-7) didn’t rest on their achievement. Any slip-up could turn a No. 1 seed into No. 4 or 5 if Pittsburgh and/or Philadelphia pass them in the Atlantic Division.
“It’s important,” Callahan said of finishing first. “We want to keep our game going, and for us to keep our game going, that’s going to be with wins.”
The Rangers turned up the heat in the extra session and finally got a puck past Ty Conklin, who was recalled from the minor leagues earlier Wednesday because of Detroit’s injury woes. Callahan fired a shot from the slot for his 27th goal, making the New York captain a winner on his 27th birthday.
New York hadn’t beaten the Red Wings since Oct. 25, 2003.
“It was a good birthday gift,” Callahan said.
Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves, and Brad Richards scored in the first period on an end-to-end rush for the Rangers, who lead Pittsburgh by three points. The Penguins have 10 games left, and the Rangers have nine.
Henrik Zetterberg gave Detroit an early 1-0 lead, and Conklin made 32 saves, but the Red Wings had to settle for one point. Detroit, 0-4-2 in its last six, moved into sole possession of fourth place in the West, one point ahead of Nashville.
“I don’t think it’s frustrating,” Red Wings Mike Babcock said. “It would have been the nice to get the second point. We had our opportunities, especially in the last minutes of the game. In the end, we didn’t get ‘er done.”
Zetterberg’s goal led to the tossing of an octopus onto the Madison Square Garden ice, but that was the only bit of playoff feeling the Red Wings could enjoy on this night.
“We played a good game against a good team,” Zetterberg said. “We battled hard all three periods. It wasn’t surprising it went to overtime, but it would have been nice to get to a shootout and have a chance there.
“There are good things we can take with us. There are still a few issues we have, and we have to work and get better.”
Detroit was without top defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle), forwards Darren Helm (lower body) and Johan Franzen (back), and goalies Joey MacDonald (back) and Jimmy Howard (groin).
The lineup might be reinforced Saturday when Detroit hosts Carolina.
“We hear that some of the injured are coming back,” Babcock said. “Ideally on (Saturday) we’ll have a better looking team. I’m not certain of that. It’s got to come eventually. You’ve got to get some guys back.”
It wasn’t until noon on Wednesday that the Red Wings knew they would have Conklin in goal after calling him up from Grand Rapids of the AHL on an emergency basis.
“We were worried. We heard he was in a storm trying to get in here,” Zetterberg said. “It was a long day for him. To come in and play like he did was nice to see.”
Conklin, who has played in 212 NHL games, has been rounding back into form while playing regularly in Grand Rapids instead of sitting on the bench as a backup with Detroit.
“I’ve been feeling good for a while,” he said. “I treated it as just another game. It had been two or three years since I had a chance to play on a regular basis. It helped.”
The Rangers’ power play has shown some renewed life lately, and Richards did all the work on it to get New York even at 1.
After Lundqvist stopped the puck and left it behind the Rangers net, Richards took it and streaked up the middle of the ice. He weaved his way through the Detroit zone, splitting defencemen Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart—who flailed at him as he blew past them—and slid a shot that eluded Conklin with 5:02 left in the first period for his 24th goal of the season.
“I just tried to take my ice to see what would happen, if someone would come to me,” Richards said. “I got a head of steam and a lot of ice to play on, so I decided to keep going.”
Richards has been rewarded lately, scoring six goals and adding nine assists in 12 games this month.
“It’s March, under 10 games left. You want to contribute,” said Richards, in his first season with the Rangers. “You want to help your teammates. That’s what we do.
“We’re starting to feel better the last few games. It’s a good time of year to start getting that way.”
New York got the advantage when Detroit was caught with too many men on the ice. Eight players were out there when the whistle was blown. The Rangers had failed to score a power-play goal in 10 of 12 games before netting one Monday in a victory over New Jersey.
The Red Wings struck first, just 3:36 in when Zetterberg fired a shot that appeared to be deflected just before it got past Lundqvist. Zetterberg’s 19th goal of the season was his first in six games.
NOTES: Lundqvist has two assists this season. … Conklin beat the Rangers 2-0 in his last start against them, while with St. Louis, on Nov. 7, 2010. … Zetterberg’s goal was his 249th in the NHL, tying him with Peter Forsberg for 11th place among Swedish players. … Rangers C Artem Anisimov returned to the lineup after missing two games because of a shoulder injury. LW Ruslan Fedotenko sat out.