One Night, Two Great Rangers Endings

Overtime goal leaves Rangers atop the entire NHL.

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Mar 29, 2012  |  Updated 11:39 AM EDT
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There's a lot to celebrate about the Rangers right now.

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Timing can be an amazing thing sometimes.

If the Rangers got off to a strong start this season and found themselves with the most points in the NHL after 38 games, people would be ecstatic and buzzing about just how far the team could go this season.

But the fact that they are doing it in a year that featured the spotlight of the Winter Classic and the HBO show surrounding it has made everything seem that much more significant.

The show wrapped up on Thursday night with another fine episode that taught us the now-departed Sean Avery likes free refills on orange juice, Brandon Dubinsky might want to check where cameras are before picking his nose and that Mike Rupp is more than willing to jump into a fight when Michael Del Zotto gets suckerpunched.

And, continuing a trend from the first three episodes, it left viewers with the feeling that John Tortorella could motivate anyone to do anything at any moment.

Not a bad thing to have on your bench, especially when you find yourself in overtime with the Panthers at a Madison Square Garden light on energy on a Thursday night. Whether it was the opponent, the Winter Classic hangover or diehards staying home to check out HBO, the building had about as much life as the Islanders' playoff chances on Thursday night.

Maybe that's why the Rangers were sluggish at the start, giving the Panthers a bit too much room to operate and allowing an early goal that put them in a 1-0 hole. The aggressiveness came around, though, and the Rangers carried the final 45 minutes or so because of that aggressiveness.

That still left them tied 2-2 when 60 minutes were up which meant overtime and the possibility of a breakaway contest to decide things in a way that might not work out well for a team trying to stay at the top of the division. Thanks to Marian Gaborik, that's nothing they need to worry about.

Gaborik scored his 23rd of the season in overtime, the Rangers took two points and ended the night with more points than anyone else in all of hockey.

Tortorella was quick to say how little that meant to him after the game, which is another reminder of why he is doing such a great job of keeping this team pointed in the right direction this year.

It would seem to be very easy to let early success, TV cameras and adulation from New York create enough distraction to knock a hockey team off stride. but it hasn't happened for the Rangers and Tortorella's a big reason why that's the case.

There's more than half a season to play, but it doesn't feel like anyone's getting ahead of themselves when they say it feels like this team has the foundation of something special.

That flows from the coach and Tortorella's star has never burned brighter since he joined the Rangers.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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