|NYR||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||4|
|NYI||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||2|
• PHOTO GALLERY
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
With three new players in the lineup, the Rangers set about defeating the Islanders 4-2 on Thursday evening at the Nassau Coliseum behind their reliable stand-by, All-Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
As Sean Avery returned to the Rangers for the first time since the playoffs last spring, and Nik Antropov and Derek Morris both debuted in Rangers blue, Lundqvist starred in goal yet again with 28 saves, leading the Rangers to their first road win since Jan. 16, a span of nine games (0-7-2) without a victory.
“That’s my job, and that’s why they pay me -- the big bucks, too,” joked Lundqvist after notching his 28th win of the season. “I love playing for this team because the guys work so hard, and it’s my job to be there when the team needs it the most.”
It was the Rangers’ second victory in a row overall, and the club is now 2-1-1 under new head coach John Tortorella. The Rangers had not won back-to-back games of any kind since Jan. 20 and Jan. 27.
“I thought Lundqvist was outstanding,” said Tortorella. “I thought we looked a little sluggish, maybe because of the four days off. It was an ugly win, but good teams win games even when they’re not playing well. And Henrik was a big part of that.”
Leading 2-1 heading into the third period, the Rangers wasted no time in grabbing their first two-goal advantage of the night. Only 49 seconds into the final stanza, Scott Gomez scored off a pretty 2-on-1 feed from Nikolai Zherdev to up the Rangers’ lead to 3-1.
The scoring play took shape back in the Rangers’ end of the ice when Islanders forwards Andy Hilbert and Dean McAmmond ran into one another, allowing Gomez to scoop up the loose puck and pass it ahead to Zherdev. With only one defenseman back for the Islanders, Zherdev patiently skated up ice before threading a pass to Gomez, who redirected it past Islanders’ goalie Yann Danis.
“Nicky is playing great, and I really didn’t do too much except put my stick on the ice, and he found it,” said Gomez.
The pesky Islanders would not quit, however, and they answered back at 3:44 when defenseman Jack Hillen scored his first National Hockey League goal off a give-and-go in deep with Blake Comeau to cut the Rangers advantage to 3-2.
A somewhat fluky power-play goal credited to Markus Naslund, however, restored the Rangers’ two-goal bulge and effectively put the game away for the Rangers with a little more than six minutes remaining in the match.
Naslund snapped his stick in half while taking a slap shot from the top of the right-wing circle and his shot deflected off the stick of Islanders’ defenseman Radek Martinek and up over the shoulder of Danis for his team-leading 21st goal of the season at 13:24 of the third. Naslund’s goal was the Rangers’ second power-play marker of the night, arguably the difference in a two-goal victory.
The three newest Rangers all took regular turns throughout the contest and helped contribute to the victory.
Avery drew the most attention from the crowd -- as well as from Islanders players -- throughout the night. A full 35 minutes before the first puck was dropped, Rangers fans in attendance were already chanting his name during pre-game warm-ups. Then, Avery made his presence felt on his very first shift when he drove Islanders’ defenseman Bruno Gervais to the ice with a clean hard hit in the offensive zone.
But Avery was also on the receiving end of numerous solid checks from various Islanders. To his credit, Avery kept his cool and continued to play a smart game for the Rangers. He even wisely did not retaliate after being boarded by the Isles’ Trent Hunter, drawing a power play for the Rangers 1:11 into the final period.
“Sean did some good things,” noted Tortorella. “He created some offensive-zone pressure and most importantly kept his composure out there. He did a good job in just maintaining his discipline.”
Antropov and Morris both made their Rangers debuts after being acquired in trade deadline day deals on Wednesday, and both were in the starting lineup this evening.
“I just tried to play off instincts and keep it simple,” explained Antropov. “This is the first time it has happened to me, that I have been traded, so it’s been a very busy past 24 hours.”
Morris, the ex-Phoenix Coyote, was paired on the backline with Paul Mara, and he lived up to his reputation as a solid two-way defenseman by playing a strong all-around game in just under 17 minutes worth of ice time.
“Everything has been happening so fast that it hasn’t had time to sink in, but I am ecstatic to be here,” said Morris. “It’s nice to go to a team like this with so much firepower. Once we tighten things up even more, we are going to be dangerous.”
Zherdev cashed in on an atrocious Islanders giveaway to score the first goal of the game at the 8:33 mark of the first period. Tim Jackman of the Islanders made a no-look pass up the right-wing wall, inadvertently sending the puck directly onto the stick of Zherdev. The Rangers’ slick winger proceeded to skate in a few strides before ripping a shot from the right circle past Danis for an unassisted goal, his 18th of the season.
That score held up through the first intermission due in large part to the play of Lundqvist, who stopped all 10 shots he faced in the opening stanza. Several times Lundqvist was forced into making difficult saves as the Islanders’ strong forecheck created turnovers in the Rangers’ end of the ice, leading to solid scoring chances.
Lundqvist’s best stop in the opening 20 minutes came just 2:11 into the contest when he made a lightning-quick right pad save off Hilbert’s forehand shot on a breakaway. Lundqvist also denied Kyle Okposo’s 2-on-1 rising drive from left wing at the three-minute mark, as well Sean Bergenheim’s tricky shot with a bouncing puck at 12:25.
“It’s always nice to have (Henrik) back there,” noted Drury. “He’s obviously pretty special, and he made some pretty big saves for us.”
One of the true highlights for the Rangers in the first period was a real case of role reversal when Zherdev skated in to defend Avery after the rugged winger was drilled with a clean, hard hit into the boards by Comeau with 41 seconds remaining in the period. Although Avery is certainly more than capable of standing up for himself, Zherdev sped in immediately and ended up in a minor altercation with Hunter, as both forwards received coincidental minors for roughing.
Zherdev’s actions spoke volumes about how Avery has been welcomed back into the fold by his teammates.
In the second period, Lundqvist was once again very busy between the pipes, as the Islanders outshot the Rangers 12-5. Fortunately for the visitors, Lundqvist remained on top of his game, stopping 11 of the 12 shots he faced. Lundqvist’s heroics, coupled with a Drury power-play goal, ensured that the Rangers would carry a one-goal edge into the third period.
After a very strong start to the middle period, the Islanders finally broke through against Lundqvist at the 5:37 mark. Comeau accepted a McAmmond pass in full stride over the Rangers’ blueline, burst past defenseman Dan Girardi, and drove hard to the net where his backhand shot slipped between Lundqvist’s pads and trickled over the goal line. Comeau’s fifth goal of the season tied the game 1-1.
With great help from Lundqvist, the Rangers survived a wave of Islanders pressure after Comeau’s score, and then were awarded their second power play of the night when Hunter was whistled for tripping at 8:03.
Following some good puck movement on the perimeter of the offensive zone, Antropov slid a pass to Drury who was lined up straight away, 40 feet from the goal. Drury stepped into a slap shot and fired a low shot through a Dubinsky screen and past the right leg of Danis for his 17th goal at 9:41, handing the Rangers a 2-1 lead.
The remainder of the period featured a swarming Islanders’ offense and some sharp goaltending by Lundqvist, whose best stop of the middle stanza occurred at 17:30 when he stoned Frans Nielsen from point-blank range with a sensational pad save.
“It’s just something you grow to expect with him,” Gomez said of Lundqvist’s stellar play. “Maybe it’s not fair to him, but that’s the level he has set it at, and that’s what all the great goalies do.”
Riding their first winning streak in more than a month, the Rangers will attempt to win three in a row for the first time since Jan. 10-16, when they host the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon. That contest will mark the Rangers’ last home game for a week as they will head out on a three-game road trip that begins on Monday in Carolina.
|Nikolay Zherdev (18) ASST: NONE|
1 - 0 NYR
|Blake Comeau (5) ASST: Dean McAmmond (5), Joel Rechlicz (1)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Chris Drury (17) ASST: Nik Antropov (26), Brandon Dubinsky (24)|
2 - 1 NYR
|Scott Gomez (14) ASST: Nikolay Zherdev (31)|
3 - 1 NYR
|Jack Hillen (1) ASST: Blake Comeau (11), Dean McAmmond (6)|
3 - 2 NYR
|PPG - Markus Naslund (21) ASST: Paul Mara (13), Chris Drury (26)|
4 - 2 NYR
|Jeff Tambellini Slashing against Michal Rozsival|
|Nikolay Zherdev Roughing against Trent Hunter|
|Trent Hunter Roughing against Nikolay Zherdev|
|Trent Hunter Tripping against Michal Rozsival|
|Lauri Korpikoski Holding against Jeff Tambellini|
|Josh Bailey Tripping against Michal Rozsival|
|Trent Hunter Boarding against Sean Avery|
|Andrew MacDonald Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Sean Avery Cross checking against Jeff Tambellini|
|SA: 30||TOI: 59:58|
|Saves: 28||EV: 25 - 27|
|PIM: 0||PP: 2 - 2|
|SV%: .933||SH: 1 - 1|
|SA: 23||TOI: 58:47|
|Saves: 19||EV: 15 - 17|
|PIM: 0||PP: 4 - 6|
|SV%: .826||SH: 0 - 0|