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• PHOTO GALLERY
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Starting on home ice for the first time this season, Stephen Valiquette stopped 33 of 35 shots as the Rangers returned from the NHL All-Star Break with a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m very, very happy with the result tonight,” said Valiquette, who is 5-3-1 on the season. “There’s no better feeling than contributing, and playing in New York on Madison Square Garden ice.”
Valiquette made his ninth overall start this season, with the first eight coming on the road. He had twice come off the bench to relieve Henrik Lundqvist in games played at MSG this year. With back-to-back contests out of the break, Rangers head coach Tom Renney opted to start Valiquette against the Hurricanes and Lundqvist on Wednesday evening against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
“I think we have to continue to give Henrik the opportunity to regroup and rest,” stated Renney. “Steve has demonstrated for the second year in a row that he can play the position really well. And that’s good for us to have Steve playing really well, and a rested Henrik playing really well late into the season and deep, deep into the postseason.”
Scott Gomez recorded a goal and an assist for the Blueshirts, while teammate Markus Naslund had a pair of assists. Brandon Dubinsky scored the eventual game-winning goal midway through the third period, handing the Rangers their fifth victory in the past six matches.
“This was another good win for us tonight,” said Naslund. “I really like the way we battled, especially coming off a long break.”
Cam Ward, who was making his 14th consecutive start in goal for Carolina, turned aside 28 Rangers shots on goal in a losing effort.
The two teams traded goals and many scoring chances in a fast-skating third period that began with the Rangers leading 2-1. Dubinsky scored for the Blueshirts at 12:10, only to have Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu answer 25 seconds later.
Dubinsky finished a neat give-and-go sequence with Nikolai Zherdev for his eighth goal of the season, giving the Rangers their second two-goal advantage of the night. But before The Garden Faithful was through celebrating, Ruutu had sent his 14th goal past Valiquette, while falling down to the ice, to bring the ‘Canes once again within one.
“This was back to business because these are all important games,” said Dubinsky. “I think coming off the long layoff the guys felt pretty good out there. So it was good to get on the right track and get that confidence back up to where it was going into the break.”
Although Carolina pressed its advantage after Ruutu’s score, Valiquette was stout in goal and the Rangers settled down to keep the ‘canes off the scoreboard the rest of the way.
“There are two teams on the ice and you’re not going to play spotless,” explained Renney. “You have to be able to deal with that with the composure that allows you to go ahead and build your game and finish it off properly. And that’s what we saw tonight.”
With the veterans Naslund and Gomez leading the way, the Rangers raced out to a 2-0 lead midway through the opening period before settling for a 2-1 advantage after 20 minutes of play.
Naslund combined with rookie Lauri Korpikoski to steal the puck from Carolina’s Eric Staal at the Rangers’ blueline to jump-start a rush up ice that led to the first goal of the game at the 4:21 mark of the first period. After the takeaway, Naslund carried the puck into the ‘Canes’ zone and fed Gomez streaking down right wing for a soft one-timer that was stopped by Ward. But Korpikoski created a 3-on-2 by hustling towards the slot and chipped the rebound between Ward’s pads for his third goal of the season, giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
The goal was a big one for Korpikoski because he had been a healthy scratch in the Blueshirts’ final contest before the NHL All Star Break. It also continued his recent surge offensively. Korpikoski now has two goals and four points in his last five matches.
After both Naslund and Gomez earned assists on Korpikoski’s score, the duo proceeded to team up again on a goal that would up the Rangers’ lead to 2-0 at 10:03. Once again Naslund sent a cross-ice pass from left wing to the right and Gomez swept the puck towards the net. This time, however, Gomez sent his shot sailing over the right shoulder of Ward and into the cage for his 10th goal.
What made this goal the more impressive was the fact that Naslund was crunched into the side boards in the Rangers’ end of the ice by Carolina’s Ruutu at the start of the rush, but the veteran winger picked himself up and hustled his way back into the play to land the primary assist on Gomez’s goal.
“It was nice to come back and get the puck there and finish it off, for sure,” explained Naslund.
Clearly getting the upper hand on the visitors, the Rangers set out to grab a three-goal lead and put an early stranglehold on the match. And Zherdev came very close to accomplishing that at 12:42 when he danced around Ruutu at center ice, flew into the Carolina zone, and ripped a right wing shot towards the upper left corner of the net. Only an excellent blocker stop by Ward kept the puck from hitting twine, however.
Instead of a three-goal lead, the Rangers’ advantage soon shrank to one when Ryan Bayda scored for the Hurricanes at 13:04 of the first. Bayda was perfectly positioned in the slot when the puck squirted out of the right-wing corner and on to his stick. His quick shot snuck just under Valiquette’s right arm and over the goal line to cut the Blueshirts’ lead to 2-1.
That score held up, not only through one period, but through the first two periods of the game. And much of that was due to the solid play of Valiquette and the Rangers’ league-leading penalty-killing unit.
While Valiquette was holding up his end of the bargain by stopping 24 of 25 shots over 40 minutes of play, the Rangers’ PK was a perfect four-for-four, with two successful kills in each of the first two stanzas. And Chris Drury almost added to the PK success by coming close to scoring shorthanded late in the middle stanza on a left wing blast off a 1-on-1 rush.
Playing with much poise as the ‘Canes constantly set screens in front of him, Valiquette was solid in goal. Perhaps most important to his success was the lack of rebounds he allowed, though Valiquette opted to credit his teammates and deflect praise from himself.
“Our guys were great in surrounding me and making sure that (Carolina) could not get to rebounds, so I had time to cover up loose pucks,” said Valiquette.
A perfect example of Valiquette’s success fighting through a tough screen, making a difficult save, and not allowing a rebound occurred early in the second when Joe Corvo hammered a power play slap shot from the right point with Rod Brind’Amour stationed right in front of the Rangers’ crease. Standing tall, Valiquette flashed out his glove hand to make the save and get a whistle signaling a stoppage in play.
Perhaps Valiquette’s best save came at 12:30 of the second when he slid across his crease from left-to-right to rob Ray Whitney, whose neat redirection from in front seemed destined to find its way into the cage.
Immediately after the game, the Rangers boarded a jet destined for Pittsburgh, where they will skate against the Penguins on Wednesday night. Ten days ago, in their most recent match in Pittsburgh, the Rangers were blanked 3-0, although the Blueshirts have still won three of four games against their division rivals this season.
|Lauri Korpikoski (3) Wrist shot - ASST: Scott Gomez (24), Markus Naslund (16)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Scott Gomez (10) Snap shot - ASST: Markus Naslund (17), Michal Rozsival (18)|
2 - 0 NYR
|Ryan Bayda (4) Snap shot - ASST: Tuomo Ruutu (15), Rod Brind'Amour (20)|
2 - 1 NYR
|Brandon Dubinsky (8) Snap shot - ASST: Nikolay Zherdev (28), Dmitri Kalinin (9)|
3 - 1 NYR
|Tuomo Ruutu (14) Snap shot - ASST: Chad LaRose (4), Rod Brind'Amour (21)|
3 - 2 NYR
|Wade Redden Roughing against Ryan Bayda|
|Wade Redden Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Joni Pitkanen Roughing against Nikolay Zherdev|
|Paul Mara Holding against Scott Walker|
|Paul Mara Tripping against Ryan Bayda|
|Ray Whitney Hooking against Nigel Dawes|
|SA: 31||TOI: 59:31|
|Saves: 28||EV: 20 - 23|
|PIM: 0||PP: 6 - 6|
|SV%: .903||SH: 2 - 2|
|SA: 35||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 33||EV: 25 - 27|
|PIM: 0||PP: 8 - 8|
|SV%: .943||SH: 0 - 0|