|NYI||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||4|
|NYR||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||5|
• PHOTO GALLERY
In the end, the better team won the hockey game, and there was no question heading into Monday night’s Rangers-Islanders matchup at The Garden that the Blueshirts were the better team.
Getting those crucial two points, however, required a hard-fought battle, particularly in the third period, when the Rangers erupted for four goals to beat their local rivals 5-4.
Yes, the visitors came into the game having lost 11 of their last 12, but this was a Rangers-Islanders game, and history shows that such games are rarely easy for the team that wins.
Indeed, the Rangers had to earn this victory -- even after taking the lead once at 3-2 and then for good on Markus Naslund’s 14th goal of the season at 7:12 of the third.
With their rejuvenating victory, the Rangers snapped a three-game slide, tightened their grip on first place in the Atlantic Division and avoided what might have been the first three-game losing streak at MSG in nearly two years. The crowd went home more than happy this time, as they applauded the game-ending center-ice stick salute.
The win also enabled the Rangers to end the 2008 calendar year on a high note. By the end of the game, Rangers fans were high-fiving each other in the aisles, chanting “We Want Fishsticks” and “Last Place, Last Place” at the struggling Islanders, whom the Blueshirts outshot 37-24 in avenging an Election Night shootout loss.
Ten different Rangers players picked up at least a point on Monday, but none made a bigger statement than Petr Prucha, who sparked the team with an early third-period goal that shifted momentum over to the Rangers for the remainder of the evening. Prucha went on to earn No. 1 Star honors, made the most of his playing time during a season which has seen him move in and out of the regular lineup.
“It’s a great feeling, I’m just glad we won. I got lucky tonight, I guess," said Prucha. "It’s tough being out of the lineup for so long, and it was frustrating. But I got the chance to play again and scored, so hopefully I will be in the lineup for the next game.”
Rangers head coach Tom Renney had nothing but good things to say about Prucha after the game.
“That’s the type of effort you get from him (Prucha) all the time," said Renney. "It’s nice to see it translate into results for him and our team. I think we fed off him being in the lineup, which is a good thing. He’s a battler and he’s a hell of a man.”
The official winning goal would end up being an insurance tally by Nigel Dawes that had opened up a 5-3 lead with only 4:49 remaining in the third period. That quick wrister into the right side of the net stood up as the winner after a last-ditch goal by Mike Comrie with 18.7 seconds remaining proved too little, too late for the Islanders.
The unofficial winner was actually scored by Markus Naslund, who snapped a 3-3 tie just eight seconds after Scott Gomez won a faceoff in the Islanders zone coming out of a long TV timeout. Gomez had chased the puck down into the left corner and centered it out in front to Naslund, who beat Islanders goalie Joey MacDonald to make it 4-3. That goal thoroughly deflated the Isles, who had entered the final period with a 2-1 lead and then come back to tie it at 3-3.
In fact, the whole third period was a nightmare for the Islanders, beginning when the visitors lost key forward Trent Hunter to a thunderous Ryan Callahan hit just 40 seconds into the period. The Isles never seemed to recover from that, quickly giving up the tying goal to Prucha and then the first go-ahead goal to Michal Rozsival just 79 seconds later.
Callahan picked up an assist on Dawes’ winner, but his No. 3 Star status on Monday was due more to his tremendous hit on Hunter, which energized his entire team while knocking the wind out of the Islanders. The perfectly clean hit along the left-wing boards at center ice unfortunately occurred just at a point where the door opens to an exit. Hunter, who lay on the ice for several minutes, rebounded off the door hard enough to be lost for the game. A stretcher brought onto the ice was not needed, however, as a stunned Hunter managed to skate off on his own power.
The hit left the Islanders without an important part of their team, and only nine seconds later, Prucha generated a game-changing rush into the offensive zone. His initial shot was stopped, but Prucha, looking like the 30-goal scorer of three years ago, managed to bang his own rebound up into the net at the 0:49 mark for the 2-2 tie.
“It feels like every goal got everybody so fired up," said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. "Prucha’s goal was definitely a big one. His goal was very important in the game for us.”
Prucha said he even surprised himself by scoring so soon after the hit on Hunter.
“It was a tough moment because he (Hunter) was laying down on the ice for a long time and it didn’t look like he was all right," said Prucha. "I wasn’t thinking about jumping into a shift and scoring, but it happened. I’m glad I scored and that it was nothing serious.”
The Rangers gained their first lead of the night shortly after the Prucha goal, when Rozsival scored off a faceoff to put the Blueshirts up 3-2 at 2:08. Captain Chris Drury won the faceoff back to Rozsival at the right point, and the Rangers defenseman skated in along the right boards before rifling a shot that fooled MacDonald and trickled through the goalie's pads.
The Islanders came right back to make it 3-3 when Blake Comeau converted the rebound of shot by Mark Streit at 2:35, but the next five minutes of tension were ended abruptly by Naslund’s goal and the Dawes follow-up.
“We had a tough time scoring, but I thought it was nice to get rewarded with the win," said Naslund. "We’ve been in this situation a bunch of times and we’ve been able to pull it off and I think that gives you confidence. It wasn’t a complete game but I think it was a step in the right direction. I thought there was more intensity.”
The Blueshirts’ prettiest goal of the night was their first tally, which also broke them out of a scoring funk. Gomez, the No. 2 Star, had capped off a tic-tac-toe play to make it 1-1 at the 8:29 mark, but the period ended on a down note when the Islanders regained the lead in the closing seconds to set the stage for the high-scoring third period.
“Right now two points is two points," said Gomez. "We stopped the bleeding. The Islanders are struggling at the same time. It’s always a big game when we play them. It doesn’t matter what their record is or ours, you know this is going to be action-packed. We did a lot of good things tonight.”
The second period opened with the Rangers easily killing off the remainder of Paul Mara’s late first-period penalty and then using momentum from that kill to generate some offense of their own. MacDonald made a tremendous stop on Naslund at 2:36 after Naslund took a pass from along the boards and found himself alone for a shot from the left circle that MacDonald was able to kick out.
Prucha nearly evened the score on a wraparound try that MacDonald smothered at 6:59. Seconds later, after the Rangers won the resulting faceoff, Prucha deflected Dan Girardi’s right point shot on goal, but MacDonald just managed to squeeze his pads around it before it could trickle behind him.
Eight minutes into the period, the Rangers began applying relentless pressure in the Islanders zone, and the hard work resulted in the tying goal from Gomez.
Taking a Brandon Dubinsky pass in the left circle, Nikolai Zherdev patiently waited for a play to develop, head-faking MacDonald as Gomez drove toward the net. Zherdev then slid a perfect pass to Gomez, who was alone in front of crease to MacDonald’s left, and the Rangers had a 1-1 tie at 8:29 of the second.
The goal led to a raucous celebration by the Garden Faithful, which had been urging on the Rangers throughout the forechecking sequence. By the time Mara went off for tripping at 9:44 -- a penalty the Rangers killed aggressively enough to nearly score on a shorthanded breakaway by Callahan -- the Blueshirts held a 22-9 advantage in shots on goal.
The Islanders fought back, however, as Kyle Okposo made it a 2-1 game on his team’s 15th shot of the evening with only 11.7 seconds remaining in the middle period. Okposo deflected a shot by defenseman Freddy Meyer into a low knuckleball that skipped past Lundqvist on the glove side.
The first period was a rough start for the Rangers. Despite outshooting the Islanders 13-6 over the first 20 minutes, the Blueshirts found themselves trailing 1-0 as they hit the first intermission. The period’s lone goal resulted from a turnover, as the Islanders managed to take advantage of their best scoring chance.
Apart from the goal he allowed, Lundqvist was sharp throughout the period, particularly at its outset, when he denied Bruno Gervais and Bill Guerin on back-to-back scoring chances just before the game was three minutes old. He then made his first big stop on Comrie at the 4:31 mark, denying the Islanders forward on a point-blank opportunity from just outside the crease.
“It wasn’t pretty, we just battled," said Lundqvist. "There were some great goals in the third period. When you rush the net and go hard, good things will happen. We definitely played well enough tonight to win this game. We got a couple of lucky breaks but we never gave up. It was so important for us to get the win going into a couple of days off. It’s not a fun feeling to sit at home knowing you had a couple of losses in a row. If the hard work never pays off, its pretty tough mentally.”
MacDonald, however, was able to answer Lundqvist, making his first major save on a blast by a wide-open Wade Redden at the 5:06 mark. His biggest save of the period would later come at 13:33, when he stood up to Zherdev, who had been sprung on a partial breakaway.
The game developed an edge at the 6:10 mark, as Rangers enforcer Colton Orr fought Mitch Fritz. Orr got the better of the bout, toppling the much larger Islanders forward, who had spent last season in the Rangers organization, to end the fight.
Another tilt, between Comrie and Dawes, broke out just under two minutes later along the boards at the Rangers blue line. Dawes, who had never previously fought in the NHL, more than held his own against Comrie in what surpsrisingly turned into a long, drawn-out punch-fest.
“When you’re prepared to do that (drop the gloves) it’s an indication that you’re willing to do anything to win the hockey game," said Renney. "That’s where we are right now and that’s where we need to stay."
Mike Sillinger got the Islanders on the board at the 15:04 mark, when he capitalized on a turnover deep in the Blueshirts zone. Trent Hunter managed to strip Dmitri Kalinin of the puck behind the net to Lundqvist’s right, and he shoveled a short pass to Sillinger at the base of the left circle. Sillinger rifled a high, 15-footer past Lundqvist for the 1-0 lead.
Prucha’s insertion into the lineup was not the only change made by Rangers head coach Tom Renney for Monday night. Renney also moved Zherdev off the top line, replacing him with rookie Lauri Korpikoski, who was given his first chance to showcase his offensive talents alongside Gomez and Naslund.
Zherdev, who had been playing on the top line, moved to the second line, where he clicked well with Dubinsky and Prucha. The third line of Drury, Callahan and Dawes and fourth line of Blair Betts, Fredrik Sjostrom and Orr both remained intact.
Islanders No. 1 goaltender Rick DiPietro did not dress for the game despite reports that he was fully recovered from his groin injury and would be ready. DiPietro had played one game last week after missing all but the first few games of the season.
Without DiPietro in the lineup, the Islanders turned once again to MacDonald, the hero of their 2-1 shootout win on Nov. 4 at MS\G. Only this time, MacDonald’s magic ran out in the third, when he looked much more like he did with Boston when the Rangers shelled him in a 7-0 St. Patrick’s Day 2007 victory over the Bruins.
“We got the effort from everybody and now we have to translate that into being a smart team," said Renney. "And there are still two ends to the rink; they (Islanders) scored four goals and I’m not happy about that.”
|Mike Sillinger (2) ASST: Trent Hunter (13)|
1 - 0 NYI
|Scott Gomez (7) ASST: Nikolay Zherdev (22), Brandon Dubinsky (15)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Kyle Okposo (4) ASST: Freddy Meyer (4), Brendan Witt (3)|
2 - 1 NYI
|Petr Prucha (2) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (16), Wade Redden (14)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Michal Rozsival (6) ASST: Chris Drury (14)|
3 - 2 NYR
|Blake Comeau (2) ASST: Mark Streit (21), Mike Comrie (7)|
3 - 3 Tie
|Markus Naslund (14) ASST: Scott Gomez (18)|
4 - 3 NYR
|Nigel Dawes (6) ASST: Chris Drury (15), Ryan Callahan (4)|
5 - 3 NYR
|Mike Comrie (4) ASST: Bruno Gervais (6), Bill Guerin (14)|
5 - 4 NYR
|Colton Orr Fighting against Mitchell Fritz|
|Mitchell Fritz Fighting against Colton Orr|
|Nigel Dawes Fighting against Mike Comrie|
|Mike Comrie Fighting against Nigel Dawes|
|Jeff Tambellini Hooking against Petr Prucha|
|Paul Mara Interference - Goalkeeper against Joey MacDonald|
|Tim Jackman Slashing against Marc Staal|
|Paul Mara Tripping against Blake Comeau|
|Chris Campoli Hooking against Nigel Dawes|
|Bruno Gervais Holding against Lauri Korpikoski|
|Brendan Witt Tripping against Ryan Callahan|
|SA: 37||TOI: 59:00|
|Saves: 32||EV: 26 - 31|
|PIM: 0||PP: 4 - 4|
|SV%: .865||SH: 2 - 2|
|SA: 24||TOI: 59:20|
|Saves: 20||EV: 18 - 22|
|PIM: 0||PP: 2 - 2|
|SV%: .833||SH: 0 - 0|