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• PHOTO GALLERY
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
In a heavily-anticipated match-up pitting two of the league’s elite teams, the Rangers and San Jose Sharks did not disappoint on Saturday night at HP Pavilion. Playing at a fever pitch usually reserved for the playoffs, the two teams put on a splendid show that ended with the Sharks claiming a 3-2 victory.
The loss snapped the Rangers’ three-game winning streak. The Blueshirts finished their impressive three-game road trip through California with a pair of wins and Saturday night’s loss to the Sharks.
With the win, San Jose remained without a regulation loss on home ice so far this season. The Sharks, who have a league-high 55 points, are now 17-0-2 at HP Pavilion.
“The outcome is what it is, but we lost the hockey game and those are two valuable points,” said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. “These were two points we really wanted for lots of reasons. But it was a strong performance by us and we showed a lot of character, for sure.”
San Jose netminder Evgeni Nabokov turned in a stellar performance in goal. Nabokov, who stopped all 17 shots he faced in the third period, finished with 32 saves just two nights after surrendering a season-worst six goals in a 6-0 loss to the Red Wings.
“You can tell why they have such a good record because they play so solid,” noted Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who had 27 saves. “But we played well, too, and overall it was a really good trip for us.”
The Sharks raced out to a 2-0 lead before five minutes had yet to elapse off the game clock, though their lead was shaved to 2-1 by time the first intermission arrived. In an interesting twist, all three goals that were scored in the first period took place with the Sharks on the power play.
Penalties by the Blueshirts’ Paul Mara just 2:31 into the game and by teammate Blair Betts at 3:23 handed the Sharks more than a minute’s worth of a 5-on-3 power play. And San Jose not only struck once, they took full advantage by scoring on both ends of the power play.
Defenseman Dan Boyle ripped a slap shot from the top of the left circle past Lundqvist for his 11th goal of the season at 4:27, with four seconds remaining on San Jose’s two-man advantage. Lundqvist had made a pair of sharp saves on deflections, including a lightning quick right pad stop on Patrick Marleau, just seconds before Boyle’s goal.
Having scored on the first half of the power play, the Sharks wasted no time scoring on the second half. Ryan Clowe corralled a loose puck just outside the crease during a mad scramble in front of the Rangers’ net and flipped it into the gaping cage just 25 seconds after San Jose’s first score. Clowe’s 14th goal upped the Sharks’ lead to 2-0; and Renney used his timeout at that point to settle his team down.
Less than five minutes into the contest, the Rangers had already surrendered two power-play goals, something their league-best penalty-killing unit had been victim to only one other time this entire season. That was back on Oct. 15 in a 3-1 home-ice loss to the Sabres, some 30 games prior to Saturday night’s match.
“It’s tough to start the game with a 5-on-3 and then giving up two quick goals,” said Lundqvist. “But we really regrouped and came back. Unfortunately, we couldn’t tie the game; but we played really good, I think.”
After the timeout, the Rangers began to get back into the flow of the game. However, while skating on their first power play of the night, the Rangers took another penalty as Nigel Dawes was whistled for a boarding infraction at 9:59.
The two clubs skated 4-on-4 for 32 seconds before the Sharks went to the power play. And just as they were getting a fifth man on the ice, Nikolai Zherdev stole the puck from Clowe in the Rangers’ zone and took off on a 2-on-1 break with Scott Gomez. Zherdev opted not to pass the puck, and instead fired a shot from left wing between Nabokov’s pads for a shorthanded goal at 10:34.
Zherdev’s 12th goal of the season -- his first shorthanded -- brought the Rangers back to within a goal, as San Jose’s lead was cut to 2-1. It also tied him with Markus Naslund for the team lead in goals.
“That was a huge goal, just a great individual effort by him,” noted team captain Chris Drury. “That was such a big goal because it got us right back in it.”
San Jose restored its two-goal advantage 6:20 into the second period. Joe Thornton, one of the elite playmakers in the NHL, earned his second assist of the night by controlling the puck behind the Rangers’ net and then sending a soft pass on to the stick of Marleau, who wristed a shot from five feet out past Lundqvist for his team-high 17th goal and the Sharks were up 3-1.
Just 52 seconds into the middle stanza Clowe was positive that he had scored the Sharks’ third goal. However, a sensational left pad save by Lundqvist not only denied the scoring chance, but forced Clowe to lower his upraised arms, which he had sent skyward after his shot, thinking he had netted his second goal of the game.
After Marleau actually potted San Jose’s third goal, the Sharks had a prime opportunity to put the game away when Fredrik Sjostrom was penalized for interference at 7:32. Lundqvist made several outstanding saves during the ensuing Sharks power play, and the Rangers escaped the two minutes still trailing by two.
Less than 30 seconds after killing off the penalty to Sjostrom, the Rangers scored to once again cut their deficit to one goal. Ryan Callahan hustled to the net to reach the rebound of Brandon Dubinsky’s left wing slapper and chipped it past Nabokov at 9:56. The goal was Callahan’s ninth of the season, and was a just reward for a player who yet again was the team’s energetic pinball, bouncing off one Sharks player after another throughout the contest.
Trailing by one, the Rangers were able to start the third period on the power play as Joe Pavelski was whistled for hooking the Blueshirts’ Dmitri Kalinin at the 20-minute mark of the middle stanza.
Nabokov made a pair of terrific saves to keep the Rangers from scoring during the man advantage that began the final period. Drury had his open left circle wrist shot smothered by Nabokov and then Wade Redden’s prime scoring chance from the slot was denied by a stellar Nabokov stop.
With the Sharks clinging to their one-goal lead, the two teams ratcheted up the intensity and the game took on the feel of a playoff contest as the third period evolved. The Rangers, in particular, ramped up their forecheck, at one point winning one battle for the puck after another and pinning it deep in San Jose’s end for a full two minutes during the late stages of the third. Dubinsky, Callahan, and Aaron Voros were tenacious in creating one scoring chance after another.
Then at 14:50, Gomez surprised Nabokov by snapping a hard shot from left wing that nearly crept through his pads. But as he had all period to that point, Nabokov made the clutch save.
“We had quite a few chances in the third, and we took the play to them, but we just couldn’t find that equalizer,” said Redden. “It’s a tough way to end the trip. But we’ll get back, have one before Christmas, and make it a good one.”
That last match that the Rangers will play before Christmas will come Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden when the Blueshirts host Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
|PPG - Dan Boyle (11) ASST: Joe Thornton (28), Rob Blake (18)|
1 - 0 SJS
|PPG - Ryane Clowe (14) ASST: Jonathan Cheechoo (5), Joe Pavelski (13)|
2 - 0 SJS
|SHG - Nikolay Zherdev (12) ASST: NONE|
2 - 1 SJS
|Patrick Marleau (17) ASST: Joe Thornton (29), Devin Setoguchi (18)|
3 - 1 SJS
|Ryan Callahan (9) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (13)|
3 - 2 SJS
|Paul Mara Holding against Tom Cavanagh|
|Blair Betts Hi-sticking against Marc-Edouard Vlasic|
|Jonathan Cheechoo Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Nigel Dawes Boarding against Brad Lukowich|
|Fredrik Sjostrom Interference against Douglas Murray|
|Joe Pavelski Hooking against Dmitri Kalinin|
|Michal Rozsival Roughing against Devin Setoguchi|
|SA: 30||TOI: 59:18|
|Saves: 27||EV: 18 - 19|
|PIM: 0||PP: 9 - 11|
|SV%: .900||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 34||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 32||EV: 26 - 27|
|PIM: 0||PP: 6 - 6|
|SV%: .941||SH: 0 - 1|