|PIT||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||0|
|NYR||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||4|
• PHOTO GALLERY
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers reached the official midpoint of the 2008-09 season by playing in their 41st game on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, and by defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0, the Blueshirts returned to where they have spent most of the season’s first half -- first place in the Atlantic Division.
With Monday night’s victory – which kept them perfect against the Penguins at 3-0-0 this season -- the Rangers moved to 51 points, leapfrogging the Flyers into the top spot in the Atlantic. The loss was Pittsburgh’s fifth in a row. Currently outside the playoff picture in a season after winning the Eastern Conference, the Pens remain in fourth place in the Atlantic -- and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference -- with 42 points.
“I think our guys earned these two points in a big way tonight,” said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. “Our guys battled hard and wanted this game in a big way. We played the kind of hockey I know we are capable of.”
Henrik Lundqvist, who was sensational in the early stages of the game, made 27 saves for his first shutout of the season and 18th of his NHL career. Lundqvist is now 12-1-1 in 14 regular season outings at MSG against the Penguins. Monday night marked his second career shutout vs. the Pens.
“Henrik was great tonight,” noted Dawes. “He made some huge saves for us early which I think saved the game for us because it could have been a totally different game had they been able to tie it up. If it wasn’t for him we might have been looking at a different game.”
The Rangers turned in sensational efforts on both specialty teams, scoring a pair of power-play goals of their own while killing off all eight Penguins power plays. The Blueshirts also notched their fifth shorthanded goal this season.
It was clear from the first drop of the puck that both teams -- and the capacity Garden crowd -- viewed this as an important game. As the Rangers controlled the opening faceoff, the MSG Faithful rocked the arena with its first booming “Let’s Go Rangers!” chant, and 31 seconds later they had even more reason to get loud when Pittsburgh’s Maxime Talbot was penalized for boarding, sending the Blueshirts to an early power play.
When Dawes converted on the man-advantage just 1:00 into the match, The Garden erupted with a roar reminiscent of those usually associated with playoff encounters.
Dawes scored his seventh goal of the season -- and third in four games -- when his left-wing wrist shot deflected off the skate of Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi and past Fleury to give the Blueshirts a quick 1-0 lead.
“I got a little break there when that hit his shin pad or something and deflected,” explained Dawes. “I have scored my whole life, and it was just a matter of time before they started going in for me, even if I did get a lucky bounce tonight.”
Rozsival played a key part in the goal, stretching to keep a clearing attempt in at the blueline and then shoveling a pass to his defense partner Mara. Dawes accepted a pass from Mara to complete the scoring play.
A parade to the penalty box by the Rangers swung the advantage back to the Penguins, however. In total, the Rangers would hand the Penguins five power-play opportunities in the first period alone. Fortunately for the Blueshirts, their league-best penalty killing unit successfully killed all five Penguin power plays and, as such, the Rangers carried their 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Most impressive was the Rangers’ killing off a full two-minute 5-on-3 disadvantage 4:23 into the first. With Petr Prucha already in the penalty box, sitting out a double minor for high-sticking, Dmitri Kalinin was whistled for holding, giving Pittsburgh a prime chance to, at the least pull even on the scoreboard. The Blueshirts, though, allowed only one shot on goal over the next two minutes -- not including an Evgeni Malkin blast that hit the post -- and survived with their lead intact.
“It’s never easy to go two men down, especially early in a game, because it can really put you back on your heels, but at the same time it’s a chance with a good kill to give you some momentum, and that’s what happened tonight,” said Blair Betts, one of the key members of the Rangers’ PK unit.
Though Lundqvist faced only one shot during that two-man disadvantage, he was tested throughout the first period. Lundqvist stopped all 12 shots he faced in the opening stanza, making outstanding saves on two of the league’s leading scorers, Malkin and Sidney Crosby, along the way. In fact, Lundqvist denied all four of Crosby’s team-high shots on goal in the first.
“Hank was just unbelievable tonight,” Mara stated of the Blueshirts’ goaltender.
The Rangers played a much more disciplined second period, limiting Pittsburgh to only eight shots on goal while taking only two minor penalties. And the Blueshirts scored the only goal of the middle stanza to up their advantage to 2-0.
Only two seconds after Matt Cooke was penalized for interference, the Rangers capitalized with their second power-play goal of the night at 17:27 of the middle stanza. Gomez cleanly won the offensive zone faceoff, and Mara stepped into a thunderous slap shot that beat Fleury to the stick side. Mara’s third goal of the season gave the Rangers an important two-goal bulge over a Pens team that has been struggling mightily of late.
“Our main objective right now on the power play is to keep it simple, and that’s what we did on the second goal,” explained Mara. “Gomer had a great faceoff win and I just shot it at the net and it was a goal. Get the puck to the net and keep it simple. That’s all we did.”
Fredrik Sjostrom nearly put the dagger through Pittsburgh’s heart with four seconds remaining on the clock in the second. Sjostrom burst past a Pittsburgh defenseman on a shorthanded rush and whipped a snap shot towards the net that required a big-time save by Fleury. Had Sjostrom scored, a 3-0 deficit with 20 minutes to play most likely would have been too much of a hill to climb for the slumping Penguins.
Though not tested nearly as much in the second as he was in the first, Lundqvist was again solid in the middle stanza. His biggest save came at the 8:55 mark when he got his left arm in the way of Malkin’s left-wing wrist shot during a 2-on-0 Penguins rush which evolved after Malkin and Petr Sykora came off the bench and onto the ice to grab a loose puck during a line change.
The Rangers eventually did get the knockout blow they were seeking 12:30 into the third period when Drury hammered a Prucha pass into the back of the net for his 11th of the season.
Gomez potted a shorthanded empty-netter at 16:49 after Penguins coach Michel Therrien pulled Fleury with Pittsburgh on the power play, desperately trying to get back into the game.
All that was left was for Colton Orr to put an exclamation point on the night when he sought retribution for an unpenalized elbow thrown midway through the third by Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik. Though Orr did not get to fight Orpik, he did engage Pittsburgh heavyweight Eric Godard in a wild slugfest that drew a standing ovation from the fired-up crowd with 2:46 remaining in the match.
The standing ovation was soon joined in the waning moments by chants of “Hen-rik! Hen-rik!” in honor of the Rangers’ popular netminder, who earned his 20th victory of the year and became only the fifth goaltender in NHL history to win 20 games in each of his first four NHL seasons.
“The fans here in New York are always great,” said Mara. “They are truly behind us; and it’s always great to get two points here and play a successful game like tonight.”
The Rangers will try and build upon this performance when they host the Montreal Canadiens in another important Eastern Conference match-up Wednesday night at The Garden. The Blueshirts will be looking to avenge a 6-2 loss up in Montreal back on Dec. 4 in the only contest played between these two Original Six teams so far this season.
|PPG - Nigel Dawes (7) ASST: Paul Mara (11), Michal Rozsival (13)|
1 - 0 NYR
|PPG - Paul Mara (3) ASST: Scott Gomez (19)|
2 - 0 NYR
|Chris Drury (11) ASST: Petr Prucha (1), Nigel Dawes (7)|
3 - 0 NYR
|SHG - EN - Scott Gomez (8) ASST: Chris Drury (16), Michal Rozsival (14)|
4 - 0 NYR
|Max Talbot Boarding against Ryan Callahan|
|Petr Prucha Hi stick - double minor against Brooks Orpik|
|Dmitri Kalinin Holding against Sidney Crosby|
|Jordan Staal Interference against Marc Staal|
|Brandon Dubinsky Roughing against Matt Cooke|
|Matt Cooke Roughing against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Colton Orr Hooking against Max Talbot|
|Aaron Voros Roughing against Kris Letang|
|Sidney Crosby Hooking against Scott Gomez|
|Michal Rozsival Hooking against Evgeni Malkin|
|Sidney Crosby Interference against Blair Betts|
|Matt Cooke Interference against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Chris Drury Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Tyler Kennedy Tripping against Markus Naslund|
|Colton Orr Roughing against Brooks Orpik|
|Eric Godard Fighting (maj) against Colton Orr|
|Colton Orr Fighting (maj) against Eric Godard|
|Miroslav Satan Boarding against Aaron Voros|
|SA: 25||TOI: 59:22|
|Saves: 22||EV: 14 - 15|
|PIM: 0||PP: 6 - 8|
|SV%: .880||SH: 2 - 2|
|SA: 27||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 27||EV: 16 - 16|
|PIM: 0||PP: 11 - 11|
|SV%: 1.000||SH: 0 - 0|