|NYR||0||2||0||0||1 (2 - 2)||3|
|TBL||0||1||1||0||0 (0 - 2)||2|
• PHOTO GALLERY
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, the Rangers have much to be thankful for as they regained sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference, riding a pair of goals from Markus Naslund to a 3-2 shootout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The win was the second straight for the Rangers, who beat the Phoenix Coyotes 4-1 at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, and their fifth in the last seven matches. They also completed a four-game season series sweep over the Lightning.
With 34 points, the Rangers own the top spot in the East, two points ahead of the Boston Bruins, who were defeated 3-2 by the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday.
“The (Lightning) came at us hard,” said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. “I thought we had the kind of resiliency you need to battle through that kind of game, and we were able to play the way we have to play to have success.”
Naslund, who scored twice in the second period, and Nikolai Zherdev, who assisted on both of those goals, beat Tampa goalie Mike Smith in the shootout, while Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist denied Radim Vrbata and Jussi Jokinen in the shootout to win the game. The Blueshirts are now 5-1 in games decided by the shootout this season.
“I think we expected them to be a desperate team because they have been struggling a little bit, and now with the coaching change they are going to try everything they can to get back in the playoff picture,” said Naslund. “I thought we answered and played a decent game.”
The Rangers came within 49.6 seconds of winning this match in regulation, but with Smith pulled for an extra attacker, the Lightning tied the game 2-2 when Martin St. Louis deftly deflected a slap shot past Lundqvist for his sixth goal of the season.
“The mood after his goal was that we were going to win the game,” said Renney. “To a man everybody said we’re going to get that back and win the hockey game. That’s what you want to hear as a coach.”
That it was St. Louis who forced overtime with the clutch goal seemed only fitting, since Lundqvist had twice flat-out robbed the talented winger earlier in the contest. Midway through the second period, Lundqvist denied a wicked St. Louis shot from the slot; and then early in the third, Lundqvist flew across his crease from left to right to rob St. Louis from the doorstep.
Smith was also forced to make several big stops, including a very difficult glove save on a rising left-wing slap shot off the stick of Aaron Voros midway through the third. He also denied Naslund the hat trick with a sprawling save with 4:30 remaining in regulation after a gorgeous pass from Brandon Dubinsky down low to the veteran winger.
But Smith saved his best for overtime when he made a terrific pad save to deny Chris Drury on a breakaway 1:22 into the extra session.
Both goaltenders turned in stellar performances in this very competitive and exciting contest. Lundqvist, who won his league-leading 14th game, made 27 saves, while Smith finished with 33.
Naslund opened the scoring at 2:40 of the second period, showing patience and a great set of hands to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Michal Rozsival fired a shot on net from inside the blueline that was stopped by Smith, with the rebound bouncing to Naslund in front of the blue paint. Instead of quickly shooting the puck, Naslund waited, made two dekes forcing Smith to leave his feet and lunge towards him, and the deposited the puck into the cage.
“There’s always a judgment call if you want to shoot right away or be patient,” explained Naslund. “That was a time to be patient.”
Less than two minutes later, the Lightning tied the game on a power-play goal by Ryan Malone. With Dan Fritsche in the penalty box for hooking Jokinen, Tampa Bay won an offensive zone faceoff and quickly worked the puck from player to player. Vincent Lecavalier finally ripped a slap shot just wide of the mark, but Malone beat Marc Staal to the rebound and lifted a backhand shot over Lundqvist’s pad for his fifth goal, tying the game 1-1 at 4:09 of the second.
Although Malone was able to take advantage of a Rangers penalty to tie the game, it was his penalty later in the period that allowed the Rangers to regain the lead. Malone was whistled for hooking Dan Girardi at 16:58, and 59 seconds into the ensuing power play, Naslund scored again to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.
Stationed in front of Smith, Naslund neatly deflected a Rozsival slap shot into the cage for his team-leading ninth goal of the season, and his first multiple-goal game as a member of the Rangers. Naslund has now recorded points in four consecutive matches, with three goals, two assists, and five points.
Rozsival, who was praised by Renney after the game for a standout performance, picked up a pair of assists to record his third multiple-point contest of the season.
The Rangers and Lightning played a scoreless, yet very entertaining, first period. There was quick tempo to the period, with both teams on top of their games right from the first drop of the puck. And there was a distinct physical edge that might have been a result of the two teams meeting for the fourth time in less than two months already this season and having a certain level of contempt for one another.
Tampa’s interim head coach Rick Tocchet, who was a physical force over the course of his NHL career, had to be pleased with the thunderous blows his team delivered. Hulking winger Evgeni Artyukhin was credited with four of the Lightning’s 12 hits in the opening period, including a high, hard one on Blair Betts behind the Rangers net that spurred Colton Orr into jumping the big Lightning forward, giving Tampa a power play late in the first period.
The biggest surprise of the first 20 minutes was a fight between two players more known for their offensive flair than for their pugilistic skills, when Zherdev squared off with Tampa rookie Steve Stamkos at 15:14. Zherdev took exception to a high hit delivered along the left-wing boards by the NHL’s top overall pick in this past June’s entry draft, and he chased Stamkos cross ice to engage him in a fight. For two players not used to fighting, Zherdev and Stamkos put on quite a show before both players ended up on the ice with Zherdev on top of his 18 year-old foe.
“I like the fact that he stood up for himself,” stated Renney. “I think that’s really important because with skill players, they are going to be challenged like that occasionally. There were two good young hockey players showing the level of passion that you have to play with to compete at this level. You know what? Good for both of them.”
Zherdev would go on to add a pair of assists, giving him five points in the last two games, and a team-high 22 on the season. Plus his shootout goal, on a blast between Smith’s pads, proved to be the game-winner.
The Rangers outshot the Lightning 11-9 in the opening stanza, and had the better of the scoring chances. Staal snuck in from the blueline to drill a one-timer from left wing that required a solid pad save by Smith at 5:24. Midway through the period, Fredrik Sjostrom powered a right wing blast on net that Smith turned aside seconds before Orr stepped into a blast that forced Smith into making an even better save at the 12-minute mark.
Orr not only had that terrific scoring chance in the first, he was very involved in all aspects of the game all night, including a rousing fight with 6-foot-6 David Koci 13 minutes into the second period.
The Rangers will have a Thanksgiving team dinner on Thursday before returning to action Friday night in South Florida against the Florida Panthers.
|Markus Naslund (8) Wrist shot - ASST: Michal Rozsival (9), Nikolay Zherdev (14)|
1 - 0 NYR
|PPG - Ryan Malone (5) Backhand shot - ASST: Vincent Lecavalier (8), Steve Eminger (7)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Markus Naslund (9) Tip-in - ASST: Michal Rozsival (10), Nikolay Zherdev (15)|
2 - 1 NYR
|Mark Recchi (5) Tip-in - ASST: Martin St. Louis (11), Andrej Meszaros (6)|
2 - 2 Tie
|1||R. Vrbata||M. Naslund||0 - 1|
|2||J. Jokinen||N. Zherdev||0 - 2|
|Lukas Krajicek Too many men/ice - bench|
|Radim Vrbata Hooking against Dan Fritsche|
|Nikolay Zherdev Hooking against Adam Hall|
|Steven Stamkos Fighting (maj) against Nikolay Zherdev|
|Nikolay Zherdev Fighting (maj) against Steven Stamkos|
|Colton Orr Roughing against Evgeny Artyukhin|
|Colton Orr Roughing against Evgeny Artyukhin|
|Evgeny Artyukhin Roughing against Colton Orr|
|Dan Fritsche Hooking against Jussi Jokinen|
|Lukas Krajicek Hi-sticking against Scott Gomez|
|Colton Orr Fighting (maj) against David Koci|
|David Koci Fighting (maj) against Colton Orr|
|Ryan Malone Hooking against Scott Gomez|
|Fredrik Sjostrom Holding against Mark Recchi|
|Adam Hall Interference against Michal Rozsival|
|Marc Staal Tripping against Martin St. Louis|
|Ryan Malone Cross checking against Michal Rozsival|
|Wade Redden Tripping against Evgeny Artyukhin|
|SA: 29||TOI: 65:00|
|Saves: 27||EV: 23 - 24|
|PIM: 0||PP: 4 - 5|
|SV%: .931||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 35||TOI: 64:34|
|Saves: 33||EV: 28 - 29|
|PIM: 0||PP: 3 - 4|
|SV%: .943||SH: 2 - 2|