Rangers rip Bolts, hit Olympic break on high note
|Rangers forward Sean Avery is congratulated at the bench after scoring the Blueshirts' first goal on a penalty shot at 1:40 of the second period.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
For the second straight game, the Rangers used a terrific second period to jump-start an important victory, and as a result, the Blueshirts hit the Olympic Break right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
On Sunday it was a four-goal second period boosting the Rangers to a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden. This win followed Friday’s 3-2 overtime victory in Pittsburgh in which the Rangers scored twice in a dominating second period.
led the Rangers with a season-high three-point performance. Christensen tallied his fourth and fifth goals of the season and assisted on one by Vinny Prospal
, who recorded a two-point game.
“It felt good, obviously,” said Christensen. “We’re talking about playing more desperate because the playoffs are 20 games away and we’re right in the thick of things. Our playoff hockey has to start now. It’s time to be consistent.”
surrendered two goals in the opening period, but threw up the brick wall thereafter, finishing with 27 saves for the Rangers.
With the win the Rangers, who played without the injured Marian Gaborik
and Michael Del Zotto
, pulled even with the Lightning for ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 63 points, one shy of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, and both have games in hand over eighth-place Montreal.
“What feels good is to end it like this with a strong push,” said Lundqvist. “It’s exciting to be in the race right now. It’s also exciting because we feel like we are going in the right direction.”
After a lethargic start to the game, the Rangers exploded in the second period, wiping out a two-goal deficit with four unanswered goals of their own. Christensen potted his pair late in the period following scores by Sean Avery
and Prospal earlier in the second to put the Rangers ahead 4-2.
Perhaps the turning point of the game took place just 1:40 into the second period. At that point the Rangers were trailing 2-0 as goals by Steven Stamkos and Steve Downie late in the first had put the home team in a hole. But Avery was able to help his team turn the tide and shift momentum back to the Rangers.
Bursting down the middle of the ice towards the Tampa Bay net, Avery accepted a soft lead pass from Artem Anisimov
. As Avery skated towards the net he was hooked from behind by Lightning defenseman Kurtis Foster, and the officials awarded Avery a penalty shot after Mike Smith had stopped the ensuing shot on goal.
|Rangers forward Erik Christensen, who tied a career high with three points, scores the first of his two second-period goals Sunday afternoon. It stood up as the game-winner, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
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With his teammates standing on the bench, and the capacity crowd at The Garden standing and roaring, Avery patiently skated in, glided from right wing to left, waited for Smith to go down, and then roofed his shot under the crossbar.
“It was a great shot,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “Once I saw him take it wide, and saw where Smith was, I didn’t think there was any chance. But give him credit, it was a good shot and, obviously, it got us right back into the game.”
Avery’s penalty-shot goal put the Rangers on the scoreboard and changed the entire complexion of the game. What happened on the next shift cemented the fact that the Rangers would retain their-new found momentum.
Down flat on his stomach, Lundqvist reached up to make a sensational glove save on a wide-open Nate Thompson just 15 seconds after Avery’s score. Four minutes later Lundqvist burst across his crease from left-to-right to rob Martin St. Louis on the doorstep to keep the deficit at one. Seventeen seconds later, the Rangers would tie the game.
“There was a couple of minutes there where a lot of things happened and went in our direction,” said Lundqvist, who picked up his 25th victory of the season.
Christensen’s speed and drive to the net set up a series of scoring chances which culminated in Prospal hammering a loose puck from the slot into the back of the net at 6:07. Prospal’s 14th goal of the season -- and fifth in the last five games -- was the equalizer, and just the beginning of Christensen’s big second period.
“Sometimes just getting that first goal -- or even an assist -- can get you going,” said Christensen. “You get the first one and you just crave more. It’s like a drug.”
Christensen followed up his assist on Prospal’s goal by scoring twice himself before the second period was complete, handing the Rangers a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes of play. The 26 year-old center scored at 12:06 -- beating Smith through the five-hole from right-wing -- giving the Rangers their first lead of the night, and then finished off a rush on right wing with a tracer, beating Smith to the stick side, at 13:52.
“There’s only one other player on this team that can do that---put it from backhand to forehand and score top shelf in the far corner -- and that’s Gaborik,” said Tortorella. “(Christensen)’s skill showed today. That was a pretty goal.”
Clearly skating with renewed confidence, Christensen came within inches of recording a natural hat trick when he snapped a shot off the crossbar with 1:28 to go in the second period.
That the score stood at 4-2 heading into the second intermission also was due in large part to Lundqvist, who singlehandedly denied a 3-on-1 Tampa Bay scoring opportunity with one minute to play. Lundqvist stacked his pads as he anticipated the centering pass that resulted in Ryan Malone’s jam attempt, earning the familiar chants of “Hen-rik! Hen-rik!” from the appreciative Garden Faithful.
Lundqvist and the Rangers caught a break early in the third period when Stamkos -- who earlier had scored his 35th goal and assisted on Tampa’s other score -- took off on a clear breakaway, only to have his right-wing blast ring off the near post 37 seconds into the period.
sealed the victory by scoring into the empty-net with 14.4 seconds to play. The goal was the 250th of Drury’s career, as well as his 600th point in the National Hockey League.
Drury is one of five players on the Rangers’ roster heading to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. Drury will join Ryan Callahan
, as well as Tortorella, with Team USA. Lundqvist will play for Sweden; Gaborik will represent Slovakia; and Olli Jokinen will lead Finland.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Drury, who will take part in his third Olympics. “I get to play in the Olympics, represent my country. I get to bring my family along. It is going to be a fun few weeks.”
While the five Ranger Olympians are in Vancouver, their teammates will spread out to various vacation sites. The team will reconvene for practices beginning on Feb. 24, and will return to game action in Ottawa against the Senators on March 2.
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