|PHX||1||0||0||(0 - 0)||1|
|NYR||1||1||2||(0 - 0)||4|
• PHOTO GALLERY
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Scott Gomez returned to the lineup and played a strong game, while Nikolai Zherdev recorded three assists and Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves as the Rangers snapped a two-game losing skid with a 4-1 victory over Wayne Gretzky’s Phoenix Coyotes Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
“This was good win for us,” said Gomez, who missed the previous five games with an ankle injury. “The excitement being back here at MSG was just great for me.”
Coming off back-to-back losses to the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators, the Rangers rallied from an early one-goal deficit to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season. The Blueshirts, who now have 32 points on the season, handed Phoenix its sixth consecutive loss.
Though Gomez was held off the scoresheet until scoring an empty-net goal late in the third, he energized the Rangers and created numerous scoring opportunities for himself and others with his speed and deft puck handling. He routinely rushed the puck up ice and had Coyotes defensemen back on their heels with his smooth skating, showing no ill effects from the ankle injury that had sidelined him the previous five games.
All told, Gomez logged 22:40 of ice-time, fired five shots on goal, and won an astounding 83 percent (19-23) of his faceoffs.
“More than him being a special hockey player and one of the best on our team, what I really noticed tonight was the calming effect he has on our team,” noted Brandon Dubinsky, who scored a goal and added an assist. “I think Scott takes the pressure off each of us, myself included.”
With Gomez back in the lineup, Rangers head coach Tom Renney opted to scratch winger Nigel Dawes, and alter three of his four forward line combinations. Gomez centered Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury, who himself shifted from center to the wing upon Gomez’s return. Markus Naslund, who had been skating with Drury and Callahan the last five matches, was teamed with Dubinsky and Zherdev. And Aaron Voros took the place of Dawes on a line with Lauri Korpikoski and Dan Fritsche.
All four lines, including Blair Betts between Fredrik Sjostrom and Colton Orr, played with jump and passion. And despite falling behind 1-0 on Enver Lisin’s goal 4:08 into the game, the Rangers were physical and aggressive in their pursuit of the puck in all three zones of the ice.
Callahan and Dubinsky, in particular, showed right from the get go that the Rangers were going to play an intense game. Dubinsky engaged rugged Phoenix winger Daniel Carcillo in a fight just 2:58 into the contest, and he threw several big hits after serving his penalty time, as well.
“That’s how Brandon plays. He’s a feisty kid and a great teammate,” said Renney. “He stands up for himself and he stands up for his teammates. He plays a hard, firm game of hockey.”
Callahan, meanwhile, led the Rangers with seven credited hits, including five in an energetic first period.
Like Gomez, Zherdev was a whirling dervish on the ice, inspiring repeated Oohs and Aahs from the fans throughout the game. As the result of his inspired play, Zherdev earned the primary assists on each of the first three goals scored by the Blueshirts.
“Sometimes you watch the game from my point and you can see the openings on the ice, which is easy because I am far away and behind the play,” said Lundqvist. “But (Zherdev) always sees what I see, which is incredible, because he is right there in the middle of the play. When he is going like he was tonight, he’s a top player, for sure.”
At 13:33 of the first, Zherdev made a perfect pass from left wing to a cutting Betts in the slot, and the veteran center slipped a forehand shot past Ilya Bryzgalov to tie the game 1-1. Betts jumped right into the play after replacing Dubinsky on a line change and ended up scoring his third goal of the season.
Then, at 1:15 of the second, Zherdev and Dubinsky combined on a quick give-and-go deep in the Coyotes end which resulted in the go-ahead goal for the Rangers. Skating on left wing, Dubinsky dropped the puck to Zherdev, who quickly returned the pass, causing the Phoenix defenseman to spin around. Dubinsky then carried the puck around the net and sent a wraparound shot off Phoenix defenseman’s stick and over the goal line for his first goal in 14 games, and fifth of the season, to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.
“I wanted to get him the puck as much as I could because I know he could do some spectacular things with it when he has it,” Dubinsky said of Zherdev, who also notched his 200th career point in the NHL this evening. “The way he was going tonight, he probably could have had 10 assists.”
Zherdev picked up his third assist on Dan Girardi’s crucial power-play goal at 7:37 of the third period, which upped the Rangers’ advantage to 3-1. Camped in front of the Coyotes’ net, Dubinsky directed the puck to Zherdev, who was stationed along the right-wing boards, after an initial shot by Girardi was saved by Bryzgalov. Zherdev quickly fed the puck back to Girardi, who drove a slap shot through Dubinsky’s screen and into the back of the net for his third of the season.
Leading by two, the Rangers killed off Phoenix’s only power play of the night two minutes later, and were on their way to an important victory.
Gomez closed out the scoring by firing a shot from outside the blueline into the empty net, off an unselfish feed from Drury, for his fourth goal of the season with 27.9 seconds left to put the finishing touches on the 4-1 win.
“We’re happy to have him back,” Girardi said of Gomez. “He changes the play out there and he makes things happen by being such a great skater.”
Despite allowing Lisin’s goal early in the first, Lundqvist was extremely sharp between the pipes, especially in the first few minutes of the first and third periods when the Coyotes played with extra jump and created several excellent scoring chances. Lundqvist’s three straight big saves early in the third were crucial, as they preceded Girardi’s back-breaking goal.
“He played really well and made some saves that were vintage Hank,” Renney said of his No. 1 goaltender, who was given the day off Saturday when the Rangers lost 4-1 in Ottawa, but returned to action on Monday.
With the game against Phoenix safely tucked into the win column, the Rangers will head south to the Sunshine State for their next two matches. They will skate in Tampa on Wednesday night against the Lightning, and then will face off with the Panthers in Miami on Friday.
|Enver Lisin (2) Wrist shot - ASST: Olli Jokinen (11), Ken Klee (2)|
1 - 0 PHX
|Blair Betts (3) Wrist shot - ASST: Nikolay Zherdev (11), Michal Rozsival (8)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Brandon Dubinsky (5) Wrap-around - ASST: Nikolay Zherdev (12), Markus Naslund (10)|
2 - 1 NYR
|PPG - Dan Girardi (3) Slapshot - ASST: Nikolay Zherdev (13), Brandon Dubinsky (11)|
3 - 1 NYR
|EN - Scott Gomez (4) Wrist shot - ASST: Chris Drury (6), Ryan Callahan (3)|
4 - 1 NYR
|Brandon Dubinsky Fighting (maj) against Daniel Carcillo|
|Daniel Carcillo Fighting (maj) against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Ken Klee Slashing against Fredrik Sjostrom|
|Enver Lisin Hooking against Dan Fritsche|
|Markus Naslund Interference against Ed Jovanovski|
|SA: 35||TOI: 59:08|
|Saves: 32||EV: 28 - 30|
|PIM: 0||PP: 3 - 4|
|SV%: .914||SH: 1 - 1|
|SA: 36||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 35||EV: 34 - 35|
|PIM: 0||PP: 1 - 1|
|SV%: .972||SH: 0 - 0|