Rangers dominate Cats 4-1, rejoin East's top eight
|Rangers forward Sean Avery celebrates Chris Drury's first-period goal. It was the first of four unanswered goals for the Blueshirts, who ran away from the Panthers over the game's final two periods.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers handed their loyal fans a much-welcomed early Christmas present on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Behind Vinny Prospal
’s two goals and Henrik Lundqvist
’s continued brilliance in goal, the Rangers won their fourth consecutive game, beating the Florida Panthers 4-1.
The victory pulled the Rangers into a tie with the Panthers for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 39 points, although the Blueshirts now have two games in hand. It was also the Rangers’ first victory on Garden ice in exactly one month, since their 7-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 23.
“These games before the break, you don’t want them to think it’s Christmas too early,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “I thought we played well. Everyone contributed. It was more of a complete game than we’ve had in a while.”
Lundqvist, who gave the fans and his team a scare with 12:04 remaining in the game when he hunched over on the ice with team trainer Jim Ramsay following a collision with Florida’s Keith Ballard, finished with 33 saves. He now has stopped 136 of the 141 shots he has faced in the team’s current four-game winning streak.
“He’s the most important player on our team,” Marian Gaborik
said of Lundqvist. “If he comes up with the big saves, it gives us confidence and gives us a boost. He gives us the chance to win every night.”
Leading 2-1 after two periods of play, the Rangers scored on the opening shift of the third period to grab an extremely important two-goal advantage.
made a perfect pass from behind the Panthers cage into the slot, where Prospal shed the check of Nathan Horton and fired the puck past Tomas Vokoun. Prospal’s second goal of the night, 23 seconds into the final period, provided the Rangers some much-needed breathing room in this close contest.
Gaborik scored a scintillating shorthanded goal with 8:46 left on the clock to up the Rangers lead to 4-1. Chris Drury
pressured the puck at center ice, was pulled down, and as a delayed penalty was being indicated, pushed the puck ahead to Gaborik. The fleet winger took off down right wing and, with Horton chasing in vain, slid a backhand shot between Vokoun’s pads as The Garden erupted.
The goal was Gaborik’s league-leading 26th, and it was his second point of the night, the 16th time he has recorded a multiple-point game this season. Drury, who assisted on the goal, also recorded two points, his first multiple-point outing since Oct. 12 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Prospal had scored a power-play goal 4:55 into the second period to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead, an advantage they carried into the third period.
With Florida’s Ballard in the penalty box for tripping the hard-working Sean Avery
, the Rangers outworked the Panthers down low to score the go-ahead goal. Gaborik took the puck to the net, forcing Vokoun into a tough pad save. Ryan Callahan
then pried the puck free and worked it across the crowded crease where Prospal hammered it into the cage for his seventh goal of the season, and first in 15 games.
“It was great to see Vinny score a couple of goals,” said Gaborik.
Prospal was ecstatic about the goals.
“It’s just special every time you score two goals,” said Prospal. “I’m not a guy who scores 40 every year. It feels great to finally come out of it, and not just score one, but two in a game like this.”
Throughout the remainder of the second period, the Rangers came close to adding to their lead on several occasions, but they were unable to do so. At 9:24 Christopher Higgins had the puck hop over his stick on left wing with Vokoun out of position and a gaping net in front of him. A minute later, Ales Kotalik stole the puck at his own blueline and took off on a breakaway that ended with a shot wide of the net. And Vokoun was also solid, stopping 13 shots in the middle stanza.
The Rangers had tied the game at 6:22 of the first period, a little more than two minutes after Victor Oreskovich had scored on a rebound of a Dominic Moore shot to give Florida a 1-0 lead 4:09 into the game.
Enver Lisin did a terrific job outworking Florida defenseman Bryan Allen for the puck in the right wing corner of the Panthers zone to put the scoring play in motion. Once he controlled the puck, Lisin made a quick pass to a wide-open Drury, who buried a one-timer from the top of the right circle.
“He’s not as stiff out here,” Tortorella said of Drury’s resurgent play. “He’s letting the game come to him.”
Drury’s goal, his fifth of the season and third in four games, tied the game 1-1 and brought the Rangers to life. They had been outshot 5-1 at that point of the game and had to shake off a somewhat sluggish start.
Lundqvist’s stellar play helped steady the Rangers, and once again he was the backbone behind the Blueshirts’ effort. One of his biggest stops in the first period came at 8:32 when he made a glove save on Horton’s shorthanded shot, only two minutes after Drury’s goal.
In the second period Lundqvist was forced to be better as the Panthers had several excellent scoring chances. And Lundqvist was more than up to the task.
At 8:30 he hugged the post perfectly to deny Radek Dvorak’s shorthanded attempt from right wing; three minutes later he stoned Gregory Campbell on a one-timer from the slot; and at 16:21 he flashed a lightning-quick glove to deflect Michael Frolik’s hard snap shot into the protective netting.
“We are not going to get where we want to be if we don’t establish our game at home,” said Tortorella. “And I thought we did it the right way tonight in our home building. We have quite a few home games coming up here, so hopefully this is a step in the right direction.”
The next of those important home games comes the day after Christmas, on Saturday, when the Rangers host the Islanders at MSG.
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