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• Youth Coach Wins Emile Francis Award
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
With Nikolai Zherdev netting a goal and adding an assist, the Rangers returned to their winning ways on Tuesday night with a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers now have 86 points on the season and are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
“That’s a tough team to play against, and it’s a grind playing them,” stated Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “What I liked about our game is that we didn’t lose our patience. We didn’t blow ourselves up in trying to do too much in that neutral zone. And we scored two, they scored one.”
Henrik Lundqvist was called on to face only 19 shots, but he stopped 18 of them to earn his 34th victory of the season in goal for the Rangers. Lundqvist made a pair of huge saves in the third period with the Rangers holding on to a one-goal lead -- the first with his blocker on a strong Owen Nolan snap shot from between the circles at 2:16, and the second with his pads on Andrew Brunette’s in-tight attempt with 2:06 left in regulation.
“They didn’t have a lot of shots, but they did have some really good scoring chances,” explained Lundqvist. “It was kind of tough to stay sharp, but I kept telling myself to stay focused because sooner or later you know they will get a big chance.”
The Blueshirts, who had lost 2-1 at home on Sunday against the Ottawa Senators, have now won four of their last five contests, and eight of 11.
“Every single game now is a pressure game with playoff atmosphere, and it was huge to bounce back from that 2-1 loss to Ottawa,” said defenseman Paul Mara. “Hopefully this will get us back on a roll here.”
Carrying the 2-1 lead into the final stanza, the Rangers failed on back-to-back power play opportunities in the third period, which allowed Minnesota to remain just one goal behind. Nik Antropov did come very close to scoring during the first of the two power plays at 12:39 of the third, but his point-blank shot was somehow kept out of the net by Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, who made a sensational save.
“It wasn’t good,” Tortorella said of his team’s execution on the power play. “We’re going to have to work at it. But that is my responsibility, to try and help them to get it better.”
Zherdev put the Rangers up 1-0 by scoring with just 4.4 seconds remaining in the first period. Patiently holding the puck along the left wing goal line after Backstrom made a save on Wade Redden’s slap shot, Zherdev wristed a bad-angle shot over the fallen netminder for his 22nd goal of the season.
Zherdev’s calm as the clock neared zero was impressive, as was his ability to hit the back of the net from such a sharp angle. As such, the Rangers were rewarded with a 1-0 lead after controlling much of the first period of play, which included a 10-3 shots advantage.
The Wild, though, answered back early in the second period to pull even on the scoreboard. After Marek Zidlicky whiffed on a right wing shot, Marian Gaborik was able to put the puck past Lundqvist just 1:31 after the first intermission.
The goal was Gaborik’s fourth of an injury-plagued season, and his first since returning from a three-month absence following hip surgery. He nearly scored a second goal late in the middle period when he got in behind Rangers’ defenseman Dan Girardi and fired a hard snap shot on net, but it was denied by Lundqvist.
“Gaborik adds a whole different flavor to that team,” observed Tortorella. “He’s a danger every time he is on the ice. But we did a pretty good job on him tonight.”
It did not take the Rangers long to regain their one-goal advantage as Scott Gomez netted his 16th goal at 2:24 of the second period, less than a minute after Gaborik had tied the game. Zherdev and Sean Avery helped start the scoring play in the offensive zone by combining to strip former Ranger Dan Fritsche of the puck along the left wing boards. Avery then zipped a pass towards the slot where Gomez fired a tracer past the glove of Backstrom to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.
“That was a big goal by a real leader on this team,” noted Avery.
Although the Rangers would go on to a 13-7 advantage in shots on goal during the second stanza, they did not score again, and thus carried the slim one-goal lead into the third period. The Rangers, who played without defenseman Michal Rozsival -- scratched due to a lower body injury suffered in Sunday’s loss to the Ottawa Senators, and replaced by Mike Sauer, who made his NHL debut -- had another injury scare early in the second period.
While reaching down for a loose puck, Markus Naslund was on the receiving end of a solid open-ice hit thrown by Gaborik and was clearly woozy heading back to the Rangers’ bench.
Naslund missed a couple of shifts, but fortunately for the Blueshirts, he returned to action after several minutes.
Somewhat surprisingly, considering the fact that these two teams rarely face one another -- and have not done so since December of 2007 -- the game was played with a nasty edge. There were many post-whistle skirmishes, and much heated animosity, likely brought on by two teams desperately trying to reach the playoffs.
At 16:20 of the first period, Avery engaged in his first fight since returning to Broadway, dropping the gloves for a spirited tussle with Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck. Two minutes later Colton Orr followed up a clean, hard hit on Nolan by scoring a decisive decision over the veteran winger in another fight featuring several big blows.
Down to eight games remaining on their regular-season schedule, the Rangers hit the road for a pair of contests to close out the week. The Blueshirts will first travel to Atlanta to face the Thrashers on Thursday before moving on to Pittsburgh to skate against the Penguins on Saturday afternoon.
|Nikolay Zherdev (22) ASST: Wade Redden (22), Dan Girardi (15)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Marian Gaborik (4) ASST: Marek Zidlicky (24), Peter Olvecky (3)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Scott Gomez (16) ASST: Sean Avery (11), Nikolay Zherdev (33)|
2 - 1 NYR
|Marek Zidlicky Slashing against Nik Antropov|
|Sean Avery Fighting against Cal Clutterbuck|
|Cal Clutterbuck Fighting against Sean Avery|
|Colton Orr Fighting against Owen Nolan|
|Colton Orr Roughing against Owen Nolan|
|Owen Nolan Fighting against Colton Orr|
|Antti Miettinen Interference against Marc Staal|
|Brandon Dubinsky Unsportsmanlike conduct against Marian Gaborik|
|Marian Gaborik Unsportsmanlike conduct against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Derek Morris Roughing against Cal Clutterbuck|
|Owen Nolan Too many men on the ice|
|Nick Schultz Delaying Game - Puck over glass|
|Kim Johnsson Slashing against Ryan Callahan|
|SA: 30||TOI: 59:24|
|Saves: 28||EV: 26 - 28|
|PIM: 0||PP: 2 - 2|
|SV%: .933||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 19||TOI: 59:49|
|Saves: 18||EV: 17 - 18|
|PIM: 0||PP: 0 - 0|
|SV%: .947||SH: 1 - 1|