|NYR||0||0||0||0||0 (0 - 3)||1|
|TOR||0||0||0||0||1 (1 - 3)||2|
• PHOTO GALLERY
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
There were many positives for the Rangers to build upon in John Tortorella’s first game since being hired as the 34th head coach in franchise history. However, the Rangers managed to pick up only one point instead of the two they so desperately needed, dropping a 2-1 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a game decided by the shootout on Wednesday evening at Air Canada Centre.
The Rangers played with passion and were, at times, ferocious on the forecheck, creating numerous scoring chances, staples of a typical Tortorella-coached team. But their inability to score -- netting just one goal over 65 minutes of regulation and overtime, before being blanked over three rounds of the shootout -- yet again proved to be their undoing.
“I liked some things,” stated Tortorella. “I think they grasped how we want to pressure. I thought we had some good energy. I thought we did some good things defensively. But I just think we lack confidence when it comes right down to trying to score a goal.”
Nikolai Kulemin beat Henrik Lundqvist with a quick forehand shot in the opening round of the shootout that proved to be the game-winner. Maple Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala, who stopped 31 of 32 shots on the night, denied all three Rangers -- Markus Naslund, Chris Drury, and Nikolai Zherdev -- in the shootout to preserve the win for Toronto.
With the loss, the Rangers are now 2-7-4 in their last 13 matches. At 70 points, they remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, two better than the Sabres and the Panthers -- whom they will host at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
“I thought the group here worked hard, but it is frustrating when we can’t win here again,” said Naslund. “We have to stay energized and keep playing like we did tonight.”
Less than 10 minutes away from finishing off a shutout victory, but yet still clinging to a lead that was only 1-0, the Rangers were victimized by a gorgeous goal off the stick of Niklas Hagman which tied the match.
Moments after a failed Rangers’ power play, Hagman came out from behind Lundqvist’s cage, made a pretty stick-handling move around Ryan Callahan, and whipped his 19th goal of the season into the net past the glove of Lundqvist with 9:39 remaining in the third period to pull the Leafs even 1-1.
Where Hagman’s overtime goal on Sunday was the game-winner against the Rangers, his goal on Wednesday evening forced the overtime period against the Blueshirts when neither team could score again before the third period came to a close.
The Maple Leafs came quite close to their second straight overtime victory when Kulemin had a partial breakaway just 1:10 into the extra session. Lundqvist, though, made a game-saving pad save on the in-close wrist shot.
Lundqvist and his teammates faced more adversity in overtime when Callahan was penalized for goaltender interference during a goalmouth scramble at 2:12. The Rangers persevered, however, and successfully killed off the Leafs’ power play, with Lundqvist making two saves, including a solid glove stop on Pavel Kubina’s left circle snap shot.
Perhaps as a testament to Tortorella’s preferred aggressive style of play, the Rangers nearly won the game in overtime when Marc Staal and Blair Betts took off on a 2-on-1 rush despite being shorthanded, one minute into the kill. Betts was tied up from behind, and could not get a stick on Staal’s pass, though, and the scoring opportunity went for naught.
The Rangers scored the first goal of the game, and grabbed the lead they so desperately coveted, at 10:26 of the second period. And in, perhaps, a sign of the changing times, the clutch goal was netted on the power play.
With Tortorella in charge of running the power play, the Rangers delivered on their first full man-advantage of the game. Quick puck movement was the key to the goal, which came on a Wade Redden slap shot from left wing through a Drury screen in front after all five Rangers had touched the puck.
“I thought we had some good movement,” Tortorella noted of the Rangers power play that finished 1-4 in the game. “It was good to get Redd scoring a goal. Maybe that will help him relieve some of the pressure.”
The goal was not only very important to the Rangers as a team, but it was a big score for Redden individually, as well. The defenseman, who had a long on-ice conversation with the new coach at practice on Tuesday, had not scored since Oct. 10 -- a span of 58 games -- until his tally this evening.
“It was a great feeling,” said Redden. “It’s been a while, for sure, and you try not to think about it too much. But it’s nice to get that one in and get that monkey off the back.”
That it was the Rangers who scored first, and not the Maple Leafs, was well-earned by the visiting club. The Rangers swarmed the Leafs in the offensive zone, winning one battle for the puck after another, vastly out chancing the home team and skating to 24-12 shot advantage through two periods of play.
As he was in Toronto’s 3-2 overtime victory at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Toskala was the best player wearing a Maple Leafs sweater. Toskala stopped all ten shots he faced in the opening period, including a terrific pad stop on Naslund’s one-timer from eight feet out and a sharp blocker save on Scott Gomez’s hard slap shot off a 3-on-2 break.
In the middle stanza, Toskala was forced to be even better as the Rangers forced the issue in the offensive end even more then they had in the first. Toskala made an outstanding save early in the second after Petr Prucha turned the Leafs defense inside-out with a sensational move and shot from right wing. And the veteran netminder showed a tremendous survival instinct denying several shots -- including a point-blank try by Staal -- while down on the ice during a scramble two minutes after Redden’s goal.
That Staal was down by the Maple Leafs’ net was not surprising considering how aggressively Rangers’ defensemen joined the offensive game throughout the contest. It appeared clear that Tortorella communicated to his players that aggressive puck pursuit is a five-man job, not exclusive only to the three forwards.
“For a while there, although we didn’t get goals, it was a half-ice game,” observed Tortorella. “We were jamming them up there pretty good and playing in their end zone. But we have to finish. I know the guys are trying, but it’s that last thing to score a goal, and we struggled there.”
Though the Rangers were relentless in the Leafs end of the ice, they were also solid defensively in their own end. Toronto had very few quality scoring chances, and Lundqvist faced only three shots on goal in the first period and nine in the second, stopping all 12.
Lundqvist’s best save came 30 seconds after Redden’s score gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead when he made a lightning-quick left-toe stop on Dominic Moore’s redirection of Jason Blake’s pretty centering pass.
There was also some luck on Lundqvist’s side. Four-and-a-half minutes into the match, Blake’s backhander slid under his pads and slithered along the goal line, but never crossed over. And at 15:48 of the second, Lee Stepniak stepped into a booming right wing slap shot that rang flush off the far post behind Lundqvist.
Luck was also on the side of Rangers’ winger Fredrik Sjostrom at the 15-minute mark of the second. Sjostrom was drilled into the side boards on a clean, hard check by Toronto’s Alex Ponikorovsky, and he smashed awkwardly into the edge of the plexiglass, receiving a nasty cut under his right eye. The fortunate part for Sjostrom was that the eye itself was not harmed on the scary play, though he did require stitches on the upper cheek -- the second cut he received during the contest to go along with one on his forehead from the opening period.
Ponikorovsky’s thunderous check was one of many huge hits delivered by both teams in the game. Brandon Dubinsky, Lauri Korpikoski, and Callahan were the most consistently physical Rangers, while Drury was both on the giving the receiving ends of many a big hit.
But when all was and done on Wednesday, despite all the good things they did on the ice, the bottom line is that the Rangers once again failed to score enough and as a result lost for the 11th time in 13 matches.
“I think most nights we are going to get more than one goal playing this way,” said Naslund. “I think we are going to be in good shape if we keep playing like this.”
|PPG - Wade Redden (3) ASST: Michal Rozsival (21), Chris Drury (24)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Niklas Hagman (19) ASST: Mikhail Grabovski (16), Nikolay Kulemin (12)|
1 - 1 Tie
|1||N. Kulemin||M. Naslund|
|2||N. Hagman||C. Drury|
|3||M. Grabovski||N. Zherdev|
|Ian White Fighting (maj) against Markus Naslund|
|Markus Naslund Fighting (maj) against Ian White|
|Dan Girardi Interference against Nik Antropov|
|Fredrik Sjostrom Tripping against Dominic Moore|
|Lee Stempniak Interference against Chris Drury|
|Brandon Dubinsky Hooking against Nikolay Kulemin|
|Jonas Frogren Tripping against Nikolay Zherdev|
|Ian White Hooking against Lauri Korpikoski|
|Mikhail Grabovski Hooking against Marc Staal|
|Ryan Callahan Interference on goalkeeper against Vesa Toskala|
|SA: 24||TOI: 65:00|
|Saves: 23||EV: 19 - 20|
|PIM: 0||PP: 4 - 4|
|SV%: .958||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 32||TOI: 64:55|
|Saves: 31||EV: 30 - 30|
|PIM: 0||PP: 1 - 2|
|SV%: .969||SH: 0 - 0|