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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
For the second straight contest, the Rangers rallied to tie the game in the third period and then win it in the shootout as the Blueshirts recorded a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
Nikolai Zherdev beat Ottawa goalie Alex Auld between the pads with a wicked wrist shot in the first round of the shootout, and Henrik Lundqvist made it stand up by stopping all three shootout shots by the Senators for the victory. Lundqvist was sensational again, making 27 saves, to go along with the three stops in the shootout.
“I like the challenge of facing the best players on the other team,” said Lundqvist, who stopped all four shots during the shootout in Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Bruins at MSG, as well. “You need to have a lot of patience and confidence. And right now I have both.”
The Rangers, who have had three of their last four games decided via the shootout, have won three in a row, and they lead the Eastern Conference with 30 points. Their 14-5-2 record is identical to the pace set by the 1993-94 Stanley Cup champion Rangers through 21 games.
Ottawa suffered its fifth consecutive loss.
Trailing 1-0, the Rangers tied the game on Fredrik Sjostrom’s second goal of the season at 7:17 of the third period. Sjostrom hammered in the rebound of Marc Staal’s booming slap shot from the left point over the fallen Auld to pull the Blueshirts even.
Blair Betts, wearing an alternate captain’s “A” in the absence of Scott Gomez, who missed his third straight game due to injury, outworked several Senators along the boards in the offensive zone to gain control of the puck at the start of the scoring play. He then created havoc in front of Auld on Staal’s shot, eventually tipping the puck back to Sjostrom for the goal. That sequence was emblematic of Betts’ effort all evening.
“Everybody trusts each other in here, and we don’t get upset by being down a goal because we believe we can come back,” said Sjostrom. “Lately the third period brings out the best in us. It’s great to come back and get the win. There’s no complaints about that.”
Only a few minutes earlier, Lundqvist had made a sensational right-pad save on Antoine Vermette’s shorthanded breakaway at the 3:55 mark. The save was crucial because it kept the Rangers deficit at one, and was typical of Lundqvist’s clutch play, not only tonight, but the entire season.
“You can say the same thing every night about what Hank means to us,” said defenseman Wade Redden. “He gives us a chance, and he’s been doing that for us all year. Even when we struggle the first two periods like tonight, we’re only down one goal because of his play.”
Lundqvist and defenseman Michal Rozsival teamed up to help force overtime when, with 90 seconds remaining in the third, Ottawa had a 2-on-1 down low opportunity, and Lundqvist made a save, but was out of position on the rebound. Rozsival, playing in his 500th National Hockey League contest, was able to calmly push the puck out of danger, however, and the Rangers escaped a dangerous situation.
Playing against his former team for the first time since signing with the Rangers as a free agent this past July, Redden turned in a typically solid contest. Perhaps a bit motivated to step up against a Senators team for whom he played 932 career regular season and post-season games, Redden tried to singlehandedly get the Rangers on the board 10:40 into the second period when he capped a pretty rush up right wing with a wicked wrist shot that just sailed wide of the cage.
“I thought he played real steady, and played real good tonight,” Rangers head coach Tom Renney said of Redden. “From a coaching perspective, I just really liked the calm that he played with. He just seems like he’s really taking charge out there.”
The first goal of the game was not scored until nearly two complete periods had been played. Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson snapped the scoreless tie by netting his fourth goal of the season at 16:13 of the middle stanza to give the Senators a 1-0 lead.
Alfredsson weaved his way from left wing into the high slot making a pretty move, before sending a wrist shot past a partially screened Lundqvist to open the scoring. Renney argued from the bench that Ottawa’s Jason Spezza had interfered with Lundqvist during the play, but the argument fell on deaf ears.
“If you look at the stick of Spezza, it is in the back of the left leg of Henrik, and he knocks him off balance,” stated Renney after the game.
The goal was a reward for the Senators, who worked extremely hard in all three zones over the first two periods, in a desperate attempt to snap their four-game slide. Playing a strong defensive game, coupled with a solid transition game, the Senators were able to limit the Rangers offensive chances, while outshooting the Blueshirts 20-17 over the first 40 minutes.
Yet again, Lundqvist was the best player on the ice for the Rangers. Lundqvist showed that he was set to turn in another sharp performance just 2:43 into the contest when he made a quick reaction by kicking out his left pad to deflect the puck away after Chris Drury accidentally deflected it towards the goal with his glove.
Lundqvist did not have to face an official shot on goal until nearly ten minutes had ticked off the clock in the first period, but he would face nine shots in total in the opening stanza, including a pair of jam shots down low by Shean Donovan at 13:40 that required him to hug the post and remain strong in his positioning in order to keep the puck from crossing the goal line.
Ottawa picked up the pace in the second period, and Lundqvist was equal to the task. He burst across his crease to perfectly position himself to deny Alfredsson’s one-timer from left wing, off a pretty Dany Heatley pass, at 6:14. Then moments later Lundqvist made a key toe save on a screened slap shot as the Rangers were successfully killing off a 5-on-3 Ottawa power play.
The Rangers’ best scoring chance in the opening two periods came a minute after Ottawa had grabbed the 1-0 lead. Staal led a rush up ice, before making a neat drop pass to Brandon Dubinsky over the Ottawa blueline. Dubinsky skated around an Ottawa defenseman, moved into the slot, and snapped a shot that was stopped by Auld. Dubinsky lunged for the rebound, but at the last instant Auld nudged it out of harm’s way with his skate and onto the stick of a Senators teammate.
“I think tonight was a real wake-up call because we can’t look around the room and be entirely happy with the way we played the first 40 minutes,” noted Dubinsky.
A frightening moment for the Rangers took place at the 8:22 mark of the second period when the puck deflected off an Ottawa stick and struck Dan Girardi in the face. Girardi fell to the ice and the whistle quickly blew to stop play. The Rangers’ top scoring defenseman then was escorted off the ice and into the dressing room for repairs, but, fortunately, returned several minutes later none the worse for wear. Girardi still was able to log a total of nearly twenty minutes worth of ice-time in tonight’s match despite missing several shifts.
Monday night’s victory was the Blueshirts’ first at MSG against the Senators since Feb. 8, 2006, a span of six games.
The Rangers will try and snap another skid at home on Wednesday night when they host the Vancouver Canucks, a team they have not beaten at The Garden since Feb. 2, 2004.
|Fredrik Sjostrom Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Antoine Vermette Slashing against Lauri Korpikoski|
|Aaron Voros Roughing against Jarkko Ruutu|
|Jarkko Ruutu Diving against Aaron Voros|
|Wade Redden Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Marc Staal Hooking against Ilya Zubov|
|Nick Foligno Slashing against Ryan Callahan|
|Jarkko Ruutu Hooking against Lauri Korpikoski|