Rangers roll over Bolts to brink of playoff picture
|Rangers alternate captain Vinny Prospal and rookie P.A. Parenteau celebrate Prospal's goal at 11:21 of the first period. The unassisted goal made it 3-0.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Prior to Friday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rangers head coach John Tortorella stressed that his team needed to take care of its own business -- even as it was receiving much help in recent days as teams they are chasing in the Eastern Conference have been losing crucial games to the Rangers’ benefit.
On Friday night, the Rangers responded to their coach’s plea with a solid 5-0 victory over the Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum. With the win, the Rangers moved past Atlanta and into ninth place in the East with 80 points. They now trail eighth-place Philadelphia by two points and have a game in hand on the Flyers, who they will also face in the final two games of the regular season next weekend -- games that could decide the playoff fate for one or both teams.
“When you start winning, you start feeling more confident,” Tortorella said after the game. “We just have to stay within ourselves and just try to find a way to play simple games and get wins.”
The Rangers, who scored four goals in the first period on Friday and received a spotless 30-save performance from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
, are also only two points back of the seventh-place Boston Bruins and four behind sixth-place Montreal.
“I think we played a simple road game,” Lundqvist said. “But now it’s very important that we just stay focused on what we have to do and not the end result of having to make the playoffs. We have to keep breaking it down to every game, every period, every shift.”
The monster four-goal first period got off to a bang for the Rangers three minutes from the first drop of the puck when Jody Shelley obliterated Tampa Bay defenseman Vladimir Mihalik with a thunderous check in the offensive zone, keeping the puck alive in the left-wing corner. So angry was Mihalik, whose stick also snapped in half on the play, that he chased after Shelley looking for a fight, while neglecting the front of his own net.
took advantage of Mihalik’s careless play, swooping in from behind the net to slip a wraparound shot past Lightning goaltender Mike Smith on the Rangers’ first shot of the game just 3:09 into play. The goal was Prust’s third of the season, and second since the Rangers acquired him from Calgary.
“We had a good dump, got in on the forecheck, and we were able to get a lick in on a guy and then take the puck to the net,” Shelley said. “That’s pretty much a fourth line’s role in a nutshell. And it’s good that Prust had the courage to take it to the net. He made a good play.”
Smith, who stopped all 27 shots he faced in shutting out the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, surrendered a goal on the next Rangers shot just 25 seconds after Prust’s goal. Marc Staal
fired a shot from the left circle that handcuffed Smith and settled into the net to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. After going 25 games without scoring, Staal has now produced goals in back-to-back games, and has seven on the season.
Although their perfect shooting percentage ended when Smith made save a couple of minutes after Staal’s goal, the Rangers did make it three-for-four at 11:21 when Vinny Prospal
was credited with his 19th goal of the season.
Again Mihalik was in the wrong place at the wrong time for Tampa Bay. This time he came back by his goaltender’s crease, only to have Prospal’s wraparound shot carom off his skate and over the goal line for the first of two fortunate bounces the Rangers would receive in the opening period.
was the recipient of the next bounce to go the Rangers’ way. With the visitors on the power play, Dubinsky blasted a right-wing shot that Smith deflected away. However, the puck then hit Tampa bay defenseman Kurtis Foster and as the puck rolled towards the goal he inadvertently sticked it into the back of the cage with 5:05 left in the first period, giving the Rangers a 4-0 lead.
“It’s funny, I think when you’re working hard that’s when you get the bounces,” said Dubinsky. “That’s what we did there and we got rewarded for it. You create your own luck and your own rewards by working hard.”
Mercifully, Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet removed Smith from the game after the first period was complete, with the Rangers having scored on four of their seven shots against him. He was replaced by Antero Niittymaki.
Adding injury to the insult of the first period for Tampa Bay, Lightning forward Steve Downie was knocked out of the game 5:36 into the opening stanza. Chasing Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi
for a loose puck deep in New York’s end, Downie went hard into the back boards, suffering an apparent upper-body injury in the process. Downie writhed on the ice for several minutes and was attended to by trainers and doctors before leaving the ice under his own power. He returned for the start of the third period.
For the second straight game, the Rangers were forced to kill off an extended two-man disadvantage early in the second period. Just as they did on Tuesday night against the Islanders, the Rangers successfully thwarted the Lightning’s 5-on-3 with Chris Drury
, Staal, and Girardi on ice for the entire 1:20 of the kill. Lundqvist faced only one shot during the 5-on-3.
“That was a really important part of the game,” said Tortorella. “What if they score early or they score two on a 5-on3? I thought we did a great job taking away their options on it. We were aggressive at the right times. This was a very important kill.”
Lundqvist was forced to earn his keep later in the period, however. When the Lightning finally produced sustained pressure in the Rangers’ end, Lundqvist was there to keep the home team off of the scoreboard.
At 12:35 of the second Lundqvist stoned Brandon Bochenski from point-blank range and then followed with a sensational glove save on Mattias Ohlund’s rebound try. Following the ensuing faceoff, Lundqvist stuffed Nate Thompson who was alone in front.
Later in the second period, Lundqvist denied Martin St. Louis on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush with Vincent Lecavalier.
The shutout was Lundqvist’s fourth of the season and 24th of his NHL career.
Aaron Voros closed out the scoring with 6:10 remaining in the third period when his centering pass from behind the net banked off Niittymaki and caromed into the net. The goal was the second for Voros this season, both of which have been scored against the Lightning.
“Right now I think the best thing is that we are getting contributions from everybody,” Dubinsky said. “We have some key injuries, and guys are coming in from Hartford making big plays. All four lines are chipping in and making it happen now.”
Having secured standings points in each of their last five games by posting a 4-0-1 record, the Rangers look to keep rolling when they head to south Florida to face the Panthers on Saturday night.
|Three star selections