GABORIK DELIVERS AS WIN STREAK REACHES 3
|Ales Kotalik celebrates his goal that gave the Rangers their first lead of the game at 10:48 of the second period on Thursday night in Washington.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Fueled by two Marian Gaborik
goals in the third period, as well as an inspired performance by Ryan Callahan
, the Rangers rallied from a 3-2 deficit to defeat the Washington Capitals 4-3 on Thursday night at the Verizon Center.
The Rangers entered the third period with a 2-1 lead, but a fluky goal by Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom tied the score after only 3:17 worth of play. Seconds after Caps goalie Jose Theodore made an excellent pad save on Donald Brashear
from in-close, Washington worked the puck to center ice where Backstrom skimmed the puck towards Henrik Lundqvist
from the red line.
Somehow the puck eluded Lundqvist to the far side to tie the game; and four minutes later Backstrom scored a power play goal from in front, and the Capitals had a 3-2 lead.
“It was a little bit of a shock, but it feels good to battle back, the way the team battled back, the way I battled back,” said Lundqvist, who finished with 26 saves. “Actually it feels really good.”
Instead of giving in, the Rangers turned to their star goal-scorer, and Gaborik responded. Only 18 seconds after Backstrom’s second goal, Gaborik accepted a Vinny Prospal
feed and drove the puck through Theodore at 8:09 to tie the game 3-3.
Handed a power play at 10:19 when Boyd Gordon was whistled for tripping, the Rangers - and Gaborik -- struck again just 23 seconds later. Michael Del Zotto
sprung Gaborik over the blueline with a perfect head-man pass, and Gaborik snapped a shot past Theodore to restore the Rangers’ one-goal lead with his fourth of the season at 10:42.
“After they score the lucky goal and then get the third goal, we just had to go on offense,” said Gaborik after his first multiple-goal game as a Ranger. “On the first goal I got a little bit lucky, you know, I just put it through his legs. And on the second goal, the power play, a nice pass by Del Zotto there, and I just went five-hole. It was a big win for us.”
The Rangers dodged one last bullet with 5:06 remaining after Brashear was penalized for tripping. But the Rangers killed off the power play, finishing the night an impressive 8-for-9 on the kill against the high-powered Capitals power play.
“I thought we showed some resiliency,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “You know what? Hank has been bailing us out of some messes along the way here for a while, and I’m glad the team hung in there and helped him out a little bit.”
Another key to the Rangers’ victory was the fact that they shut down Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, holding him without a point on nine shots in just under 25 minutes of ice-time. Ovechkin had entered play with a league-high nine points in three games this season.
There was question as late as pregame warm ups if Callahan would be able to play after suffering a minor upper body injury during the morning skate on Thursday. In fact, the Rangers even recalled rookie winger Evgeny Grachev
from Hartford as a precaution if Callahan could not dress for the game.
However, Callahan declared himself well enough to go following warm ups, and on his first shift of the game he burst in close to the Caps net to flick a shot on goal that was denied by Theodore. Callahan’s play grew more inspired from there as he garnered a team-high 8:32 worth of ice-time in the opening period, helped the Rangers kill off a pair of two-man disadvantages over the first two periods of the game, and then scored the tying goal 8:47 into the middle stanza.
Callahan’s first goal of the season evened the score at 1-1, and came on a breakaway after he stole the puck from Ovechkin in the Rangers’ end of the ice. The amazing thing about the goal was that Callahan was exhausted on the play, having helped the Rangers kill a 5-on-3 and then a 4-on-3 power play, and he had just taken part in a failed shorthanded break moments before.
In fact, when Callahan stole the puck from Ovechkin, Washington was still on the power play, but by the time he scooted down the ice and flipped a backhand shot past Theodore, Michal Rozsival
was out of the penalty box to create a 4-on-4 skating situation.
Inspired by the play of their alternate captain, the Rangers took their first lead of the night two minutes later after some hard work in the offensive zone. Artem Anisimov
started the play with a steal just inside the Washington blueline. He and linemate Enver Lisin exchanged passes on left wing before Anisimov found Ales Kotalik cutting to the net. Kotalik showed soft hands, flicking the puck up over Theodore from in-tight at 10:48 of the second, for his second goal of the season and a 2-1 Rangers lead.
Anisimov’s assist on Kotalik’s goal was the first point of his National Hockey League career.
Washington had taken a 1-0 lead by scoring the only goal of the first period at 9:18 when Alexander Semin one-timed a sweet cross-ice feed from Brian Pothier on right wing. The goal was Semin’s fifth of the young season, tying him with Ovechkin for the league lead.
The Capitals had many opportunities to increase their advantage before Callahan eventually pulled the Rangers even near the midpoint of the game. Washington had four power plays in the first period alone, including 1:03 worth of a two-man advantage starting at 11:58.
Backstopped by a sharp Lundqvist, the Rangers kept Washington from adding to its lead. During the first period two-man disadvantage -- in which Callahan, Chris Drury
, and Marc Staal
also starred for the visitors -- Lundqvist made two phenomenal saves on screened shots off the sticks of Mike Green and Ovechkin.
During Washington’s next 5-on-3 power play 7:14 into the second period, Lundqvist did not face a shot on goal as Callahan, Staal, and Christopher Higgins did a terrific job on the kill until a Green penalty at 7:43 wiped out the two-man advantage.
“I don’t want to begrudge the penalty killers, I thought they did a hell of a job with it, but it’s just too many undisciplined penalties and that’s going to bite you,” said Tortorella. “But they found a way tonight. They blocked some shots, Hank made some key saves, and that’s a big reason why we won the hockey game.”
Over two periods of play, the Rangers handed the Capitals seven power play opportunities, and killed off all seven. When skating at even strength, the Rangers were quite often the better team.
“It was a great test for us, facing one of the best offensive teams in the league,” said Lundqvist. “I think we played a great game.”
Higgins, who led the Rangers with six shots, had a series of prime scoring chances for the Rangers, including one at 16:17 of the first period that required a lightning-quick glove save by Theodore. On that particular play, Brandon Dubinsky
feathered a perfect centering pass to Higgins while being rubbed into the left-wing boards by Ovechkin. Higgins accepted the feed and skated in alone before being robbed by Theodore, who was very strong in goal all night for the Caps.
Earlier in the game, Theodore sprawled in front of his net to deny Gaborik twice -- once on a wraparound try, and then on the close-in rebound attempt. Late in the second period, Theodore made excellent back-to-back saves on Matt Gilroy
Despite his often outstanding play, Theodore could not get the best of Gaborik with the game on the line in the third period, and, as a result, the Rangers have now won three consecutive games, including two straight on the road. And Gaborik has now recorded points in all four games the Rangers have played so far this season, leading the team to this point with four goals and six points.
“It’s never too early when you have a good start,” said Gaborik. “It’s definitely great to get wins at the beginning, especially on the road. The last two games I think we’ve played really good hockey, and hopefully we can build on it.”
The Rangers will go for their fourth straight victory when they skate against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
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