Avery struts his stuff as Rangers rip Stars at MSG
|Ales Kotalik celebrates his goal that gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead at 8:23 of the second period. The goal stood up as the game-winner.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Led by Sean Avery
’s inspired play against his former team, the Rangers skated to a 5-2 victory over the Dallas Stars at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. With the win the Rangers are now 7-1-2 in their last 10 games.
Avery, who signed a four-year free-agent contract with Dallas in the summer of 2008 before returning to the Rangers via waivers on March 3, 2009, equaled his career-high with four points. Skating against his former Dallas teammates for the first time since returning to Broadway, Avery potted a goal and assisted on three others in a stirring display that invigorated both The Garden Faithful and his current teammates.
“I am happy for Sean,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “He gave us some really good minutes. He’s an important part to our hockey club when he plays on edge and plays a north-south game. I thought he was very efficient with that tonight.”
With the Rangers trailing 1-0 in the first after an early Brad Richards goal, Avery tied the game with a power play goal at 5:39. Matt Gilroy
calmly cycled back into the neutral zone to corral an errant pass from Michal Rozsival
, skated forward drawing two Dallas penalty killers towards him, and then sprung Avery over the blueline with a perfect lead pass. Avery skated into the pass and fired a rocket past Marty Turco for his fifth goal of the season, and first in 20 games.
“I guess it gives me a little bit of confidence to start making some plays and start playing the way I’m supposed to play,” Avery said of the goal. “I think I’ve been working hard, but maybe the wave is that I’m going to start getting some bounces here. I just hope that it keeps going.”
Avery helped the Rangers take their first lead of the night 10 minutes later when he chipped a pass into the slot that was converted into a goal by Marian Gaborik
. Picking the puck out of his skates, Gaborik whipped his league-high 28th goal between Turco’s pads at 15:47 to put the Rangers up 2-1.
After the Stars tied the game on Jere Lehtinen’s deflected shot 2:07 into the second, Avery earned another primary assist to help put the Rangers back in front at the 8:23 mark of the middle stanza. This time Avery sent Ales Kotalik over the blueline on right wing with a cross-ice pass, and Kotalik blasted a cannon short side on Turco to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
“Obviously it’s always something to get a big game against the team you used to play with before, and Sean played a strong game,” said Kotalik, who scored his eighth goal of the season, and second in as many games after a 21-game drought. “He was a big, big factor tonight.”
Following Kotalik’s score, Avery made perhaps his first mistake of the night. As he began to celebrate the goal, Avery shoved Lehtinen into the boards, drawing a 10-minute misconduct penalty. It was an unfortunate mistake by Avery, who had played on the edge, but without spending any time in the penalty box, including post-whistle skirmishes with Brenden Morrow and Nicklas Grossman among others.
Avery showed excellent restraint early in the second when Turco flashed his goalie stick in Avery’s face as the Rangers’ winger skated by his crease on his way to the bench. However, he let his emotions get the best of him with the Lehtinen incident.
Tortorella said after the game that he spoke with Avery following the penalty and told him, “Now let’s get back to playing hockey.” Avery did just that, finishing with four points, three shots on goal, four hits, 12 penalty minutes, and a plus-three plus/minus mark in 13:20 worth of ice time.
While Avery’s misconduct hurt the Rangers because it took an effective player off the ice for 10 minutes, penalties later in the period by Marc Staal
and Christopher Higgins put the team in a more precarious spot. Staal’s holding penalty at 14:26, coupled with a high-sticking call against Higgins at 15:32, handed the Stars a 5-on-3 power play for 54 seconds.
The Rangers -- with the threesome of Chris Drury
, Ryan Callahan
, and Dan Girardi
standing out in front of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
-- managed to survive the two-man disadvantage, allowing just one shot on goal. Lundqvist also caught a break when Richards hit the post right as Staal was coming out of the penalty box.
“The penalty kill was huge for us,” said Lundqvist of the Rangers’ PK unit that was a perfect 6-for-6 on Wednesday. “It was very confident and calm, making good plays. I had a couple of good saves there on the 5-on-3. We took a lot of penalties, but I think the way we played there in our end kind of saved us.”
Shortly thereafter the Rangers had a great opportunity to add to their lead when Dallas’ James Neal was whistled for both a slashing penalty and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at 17:40. However they failed to score on both ends of the double-minor, and their lead remained 3-2.
Drury provided the Rangers their first two-goal bulge of the game 8:57 into the third period, and, again, it was Avery with the primary assist. Avery made a pretty spin move on left wing as Drury drove to the net, and then put the puck on The Captain’s stick for an easy tap-in goal, Drury’s sixth of the season.
That assist gave Avery four points in the game, equaling his career-high which was previously set on March 17, 2007 in a 7-0 Garden win over the Boston Bruins.
“He’s a great player, and when he’s confident you can tell,” said Lundqvist, who finished with 25 saves for his 19th win of the season. “He talks more. He’s more physical. He just gets more involved in everything. And it’s big for us.”
Callahan finished the Stars off by scoring an empty net goal with 1:05 left to play.
The Rangers departed for the airport immediately following the game and headed to Atlanta where they will skate against the Thrashers on Thursday night. They will be looking for their third straight win.
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