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Cliches are overused in sports discussion, but it is important to remember that they become cliches in the first place for a reason.
Tight hockey games between traditional rivals that can turn on a single goal are said to have a "playoff atmosphere" because that's what the playoffs feel like. So, cliche or not, playoff atmosphere is the route we're going to go when describing Monday night's Rangers-Devils game.
It doesn't hurt that the trade deadline passed without a huge deal by either team on Monday afternoon, meaning that these are pretty much the rosters that they will be taking with them to the postseason. For the Rangers, the 2-0 victory was a nice return of faith that Glen Sather showed in them when he passed on paying the ridiculous price the Blue Jackets put on Rick Nash.
They showed the kind of defensive intensity (especially when it comes to blocking shots), relentless pressure and fight from every player on the roster that will make them very tough to beat four out of seven times come the playoffs. The fact that they could only generate 15 shots and one goal with Marty Brodeur in the net is the reason why they were looking to swing a trade, but the lack of firepower hardly makes them an easy out.
And if the Carl Hagelin-Ryan Callahan-Brad Richards line has more nights like they had on Monday, maybe the firepower will start picking up a bit. Hagelin scored the first goal of the game off a brilliant feed from Callahan and the line produced the clinching empty-netter as good work by Richards and Hagelin led to a tap-in for Callahan.
If they become a group that defenses have to worry about, something Callahan's unstoppable energy makes very possible, then Marian Gaborik will see a little more room during his shifts and the Rangers should see more red lights behind the net. Perhaps Richards just needed a little extra time to figure out life in the big city and the end of the season will be full of the stuff the Rangers dreamed about when they signed him over the summer.
Also making them a tough out? Henrik Lundqvist.
He picked up his eighth shutout of the year on Monday night and has now allowed two goals or less in his last 12 games. The Rangers only allowed 13 shots to come his way, but some were tough and Lundqvist didn't let the lack of work affect his sharpness in the least.
If he doesn't win the Vezina Trophy, they really shouldn't bother giving it out this year. His battle for MVP with Evgeni Malkin is going to be interesting as it comes down to assessing the value of two different kinds of players who are vitally important to everything their teams have accomplished this season.
That's for the future. The present is about the Rangers maintaining their lead in the Eastern Conference.
Mission accomplished on Monday.