|ATL||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||2|
|NYR||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||3|
Oct. 30, 2008
• PHOTO GALLERY
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
A clutch performance by Nikolai Zherdev, who scored a goal and assisted on another in the third period, helped extend the Rangers’ winning streak to four straight games, as the Blueshirts defeated the Atlanta Thrashers 3-2 Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
The win was the league-high 10th already this season for the Rangers, who also own a league-best 21 points. The Thrashers saw their losing streak extended to five consecutive games.
By reaching ten wins in only 13 games, the Rangers set a franchise record as the fastest team to ten victories -- the best start in 82 years of Blueshirts hockey.
“Our biggest goal was to get off to a good start,” said captain Chris Drury. “We had a rough start last year and then had to battle all year to kind of shake that bad start. This just shows the commitment and focus that the guys have put in. This is the start we wanted to get off to”
Zherdev put the Rangers on top for the first time in the match when he scored a gorgeous power play goal at 6:58 of the third period. With Brandon Dubinsky doing the dirty work keeping the puck alive in the offensive zone, Zherdev swooped in at the right wing circle to retrieve the puck and then skated towards the net.
Goaltender Kari Lehtonen expected Zherdev, who was extremely in close to the Thrashers goal, to fire a low shot, but instead the Rangers winger roofed an incredible backhander under the crossbar for his 5th of the season.
“He’s one of the most talented players I have seen,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said of the 23 year-old Zherdev. “He’s a top player in this league right now. And he can score that goal when you don’t think it’s possible.”
The Thrashers answered back with a power play goal of their own at 10:28 of the third to tie the game 2-2. Todd White, Atlanta’s leading scorer, whipped a pass from the right wing corner to Bryan Little, who was unchecked in the low slot. Little deked Lundqvist to the ice and snapped the puck into the back of the net for his fifth goal of the season to once again even the score.
However, another brilliant play by Zherdev helped restore the Rangers’ one-goal advantage at 13:33. Speeding up right wing, Zherdev faked Lehtonen badly out of position, carried the puck behind the net, and then whipped a pass through the slot. Though the pass was untouched by Aaron Voros, who was tied up by the Thrashers defense in front, the puck carried to Dan Girardi and the Blueshirts defenseman fired his second goal of the season into the net, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
“It’s a new team, a new system for me, so every game I try to be better and better,” said Zherdev, who, with two points on Thursday night now has seven points in the last four matches. “I feel really comfortable here.”
The two teams skated to a 1-1 draw in a first period that featured an extremely long heavyweight fight between Colton Orr and Atlanta’s Eric Boulton that took place only 2:58 into the game.
The two noted pugilists squared off in the neutral zone with Orr gaining an early advantage with rapid-fire rights. But the hulking Boulton more than held his own, and the fight extended much longer than the usual hockey scrap. Clearly exhausted after throwing and receiving numerous punches, both Orr and Boulton still were battling along the boards when the linesmen finally intervened and called a halt to the fisticuffs.
Almost two minutes after the fight, the Thrashers scored the first goal of the game. Lundqvist was beaten to the glove side on a perfectly-placed laser of a right wing snap shot by Vyacheslav Kozlov at 4:41, giving an Atlanta team that was shutout 7-0 by the Flyers in their previous game on Tuesday an infusion of much-needed early confidence.
Thinking that perhaps his team was on to something, Atlanta’s Eric Perrin burst up left wing and tested Lundqvist’s gloved hand again with a rising shot to the far corner of the net at the 5:27 mark of the first. But Lundqvist flashed out his glove and deftly snared the difficult shot, without allowing a rebound, as well.
While that save was highlight worthy, the one Lundqvist made on Ilya Kovalchuk at 15:12 of the first was even more spectacular. Somehow all alone in front of the net after sneaking behind the Rangers defense, Kovalchuk, who scored 52 goals a year ago, rocketed a one-timer from ten feet out that seemed to be a sure-bet goal. But Lundqvist quickly kicked out his right pad to deny the shot.
The Rangers had pulled even moments before Lundqvist’s great save on Kovalchuk when Markus Naslund notched his fourth goal of the season at 12:25. Sprung on a partial 2-on-1 break by a perfect Marc Staal headman pass, Naslund sped up left wing, cut towards the net, and sent a low wrist shot between Lehtonen’s pads to tie the game 1-1.
Naslund came close to giving the Rangers a 2-1 advantage during a 5-on-3 power play 36 seconds into the middle stanza, but a video review showed that he clearly kicked the puck over the goal line, missing the kicked puck with his stick before it eluded Lehtonen.
The Blueshirts, who had only four goals in their previous 38 power play opportunities entering Thursday night’s match, did not score during that two-man advantage early in the second, and failed on four power plays in total over the first and second periods.
That fact, combined with some stellar goaltending by both Lundqvist and Lehtonen, kept the game tied 1-1 when the teams skated into the second intermission.
Lundqvist’s shining moment in the middle period came at the 5:04 mark when he made a fully-extended right pad stop on a booming right wing shot off the stick of Erik Christensen. A minute earlier Lundqvist received some big-time defensive help when a hustling Zherdev caught the speedy Kozlov from behind on the latter’s shorthanded breakaway and knocked the puck off Kozlov’s stick with a perfect diving poke check.
Lehtonen stopped all 15 shots the Rangers fired at him during the second period, frustrating Drury and Ryan Callahan, in particular, time and again on excellent scoring chances. And the 24 year-old goalie continued his sharp play early in the third when he shot left-to-right across his crease to deny a seemingly wide-open chance for Nigel Dawes 28 seconds into the period, and then robbed Dan Fritsche at 3:20 when the young forward sped in behind the Atlanta defense and flicked an in-tight backhander on net.
However, thanks in large part to Zherdev, the Rangers were finally able to solve Lehtonen as the third period progressed.
“We have a lot of confidence going into tight third periods,” noted Lundqvist, who made 27 saves on Thursday. “A lot of games are decided in the third period, so it’s obviously a good thing to have that quality, that confidence.”
The Rangers will try and equal their season-opening five-game winning streak when they seek their fifth consecutive victory on Saturday night in Toronto as they skate against the Maple Leafs for the second time this season. Then it’s right back to The Garden on Tuesday when the Rangers will square off with the Islanders for the second time in eight days.
|Vyacheslav Kozlov (4) ASST: Todd White (7)|
1 - 0 ATL
|Markus Naslund (4) ASST: Marc Staal (2), Paul Mara (4)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Nikolay Zherdev (5) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (8), Paul Mara (5)|
2 - 1 NYR
|PPG - Bryan Little (5) ASST: Todd White (8), Vyacheslav Kozlov (3)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Dan Girardi (2) ASST: Nikolay Zherdev (7), Dmitri Kalinin (3)|
3 - 2 NYR
|Colton Orr Fighting (maj) against Eric Boulton|
|Eric Boulton Fighting (maj) against Colton Orr|
|Brandon Dubinsky Elbowing against Tobias Enstrom|
|Vyacheslav Kozlov Tripping against Scott Gomez|
|Ron Hainsey Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Jim Slater Slashing against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Colton Orr Holding against Eric Perrin|
|Marty Reasoner Hooking against Chris Drury|
|Todd White Interference against Aaron Voros|
|Markus Naslund Hooking against Vyacheslav Kozlov|
|Nikolay Zherdev Roughing against Eric Boulton|
|Mathieu Schneider Cross checking against Nikolay Zherdev|
|SA: 33||TOI: 58:29|
|Saves: 30||EV: 24 - 26|
|PIM: 0||PP: 4 - 5|
|SV%: .909||SH: 2 - 2|
|SA: 29||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 27||EV: 12 - 13|
|PIM: 0||PP: 11 - 12|
|SV%: .931||SH: 4 - 4|