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• GAME PHOTOS
• GALLERY: OPENING NIGHT AT MSG
• RANGERS GAME CENTER
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Michael Del Zotto scored his first National Hockey League goal, and Henrik Lundqvist turned aside 32 shots, as the Rangers defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-2 in their home opener at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. The Rangers have now won five straight home openers at The Garden, the first time in franchise history the club has accomplished that feat.
Brandon Dubinsky added a pair of goals and an assist, while linemate Marian Gaborik recorded a goal and an assist for the Blueshirts on Saturday. Gaborik netted his second goal of the young season by banging in the rebound of a Dubinsky breakaway shot that hit the post at 12:04 of the third period. Dubinsky closed out the scoring for the Rangers on Saturday with a shorthanded empty-net goal with 1:08 left to play.
“The excitement was there (Saturday) night with the great fans out there,” said Gaborik. “I got chills when I skated out on the ice. It was great, especially with the win.”
Lundqvist was brilliant throughout for the Rangers. His excellence began eight minutes into the contest, when he kicked out Chris Kelly’s shot and followed by robbing Jarkko Ruutu on a wide-open rebound attempt. Ten minutes later, he made a lightning-quick glove save to deny Matt Carkner, who was in on a 2-on-1 break.
It was during the second period, though, that Lundqvist was at his best. Lundqvist stopped 19 of 20 Senators shots in the middle 20 minutes as the Rangers built a 3-1 lead.
“There was a lot of action in the second, and we were a little lucky to be up 3-1,” Lundqvist said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes. You just have to keep working.”
Lundqvist set the tone for the middle period by making a huge glove save on a Milan Michalek breakaway just 15 seconds into the period. He also showed a quick stick, poke-checking the puck away from Ottawa’s Ryan Shannon at the eight-minute mark with Shannon all alone in front. And 15 minutes into the second, Lundqvist flashed out his right pad to rob Filip Kuba on an in-close backhand attempt.
“We gave up a lot of odd-man rushes in the second, and we have to clean that up,” said Dubinsky. “But (Henrik) was huge in there. I think he really helped us find a way to capitalize on our chances and get the win.”
The Rangers snapped a scoreless tie by scoring twice within the first half of the second period to grab a 2-0 lead. Vinny Prospal netted his first as a Ranger at 3:20, and Dubinsky followed with his first goal of the season at the 10-minute mark.
Prospal’s goal -- the 600th point in his NHL career -- followed yet another timely save by Lundqvist, who set the scoring play in motion by denying Chris Phillips, the trailer on a 4-on-3 rush into the Rangers’ zone. Marc Staal alertly chipped the puck ahead to Prospal, and the veteran took off the other way, eventually roofing a right-wing wrist shot into the net to hand the Rangers their first lead of the young season.
“I just took a shot and hoped it’s going to go in, and I was very pleasantly surprised that it ended up in the net,” said a smiling Prospal after the game.
Dubinsky doubled the Rangers’ lead by finishing a 2-on-2 entry into the offensive zone with Gaborik. The two linemates, who have quickly established solid on-ice chemistry, took off after an Ottawa turnover in the neutral zone, with Gaborik slipping a pass to Dubinsky over the blueline. Dubinsky then skated to the left wing circle before snapping a shot over Pascal LeClaire’s glove and into the far top corner of the net to give the Rangers a 2-0 advantage.
“He just has a different look about him,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said of Dubinsky. “He has the right type of arrogance right now. And he’s played very well.”
Though beaten on those two shots, LeClaire made a big stop, denying Ales Kotalik off a 3-on-2 rush at 15:25 of the second period, and Ottawa came back down the ice to score just 11 seconds later.
Jason Spezza won a battle for the puck in the left-wing corner in the Rangers zone and proceeded to whip a blind spinning pass towards the slot, right on to the tape of Daniel Alfredsson’s stick. The Sens captain was all alone in front to redirect the pass behind Lundqvist and cut the Rangers’ lead to 2-1.
Outshooting the Rangers by a wide margin in the middle stanza, Ottawa pressed its advantage in an attempt to tie the score before the second intermission. But instead Del Zotto stepped up in his second NHL game to provide the momentum-swing his team needed.
Del Zotto, the Rangers’ 19-year-old first-round pick in 2008, collected a Chris Drury cross-ice pass near the left-wing circle and proceeded to rifle a shot through Ryan Callahan’s screen in front and past the gloved hand of LeClaire with 51 seconds remaining in the period to provide his team with a 3-1 lead.
The goal was not only the first of Del Zotto’s fledgling NHL career, it was extremely timely, and ultimately was the score that put Ottawa away on Saturday night. He also became the second-youngest defenseman in franchise history to score a goal in a regular season contest and the eighth youngest Rangers player overall to score.
“I don’t think you can put words to it, it’s just an unbelievable feeling,” said Del Zotto. “I was pretty excited, and saw that my Mom was crying in the stands. It makes it even that much more better that my family was here.”
Del Zotto and his Rangers’ teammates hit the ice to a standing ovation in the pregame home opener ceremony, following a rousing performance by Blue Man Group that further fired-up the sold-out crowd. The Blue Man Group concluded their on-ice performance by tearing off their shirts to reveal Rangers tee shirts, and then banged out the rhythm to the “Let’s Go Rangers!” chant on their drums with the crowd joining in the refrain.
As opposed to past seasons, when each player was introduced individually at the home opener, the Rangers were introduced to the crowd collectively. All 20 players skated to center ice and, on cue, raised their sticks high in the air to salute The Garden Faithful, a scene they would replay once the final buzzer sounded, as well.
“It was fun to come out as a team,” said Lundqvist. “It was a good thing to give the salute.”
Playing with that team-first attitude once the game was under way, all four lines had strong early shifts for the Rangers, although the Senators battled equally as effectively in the early going. Momentum swung to the Rangers’ favor midway through the first period when the Senators were whistled for three consecutive penalties.
The Rangers totaled eight shots on their three power plays, but Leclaire was extremely stout between the pipes as Ottawa killed off all three of their disadvantages.
Gaborik seemed to be in the mix of every prime power-play scoring chance -- making a pretty feed that led to a Del Zotto rising wrist shot off Leclaire’s glove at 11:21, firing a point-blank shot on goal 20 seconds later that led to an excellent opportunity for Prospal on the doorstep that was somehow kicked out by Leclaire, and setting up Prospal for a 10-foot shot that rang off the post at 16:50.
“I thought our power play was very good right from the breakout right on through,” said Tortorella. “But again, you have to score. We found a way to score some goals without it, but we’re going to stay with it.”
Buoyed by the three power plays, the Rangers outshot Ottawa 13-9 in the scoreless opening period. The Senators, however would fire 20 shots at Lundqvist in the second period to the Rangers 13. The Rangers’ star goalie was the difference, though, as the Rangers 3-1 lead after 40 minutes of play would attest.
After playing two games in two nights to start the 2009-10 season, the Rangers will take a day off on Sunday before returning to action Monday night when they travel to New Jersey to face off with the Devils.
|Vinny Prospal (1) ASST: Marc Staal (2), Dan Girardi (1)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Brandon Dubinsky (1) ASST: Marian Gaborik (1)|
2 - 0 NYR
|Daniel Alfredsson (1) ASST: Jason Spezza (1)|
2 - 1 NYR
|Michael Del Zotto (1) ASST: Chris Drury (1), Chris Higgins (2)|
3 - 1 NYR
|Marian Gaborik (2) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (2), Enver Lisin (1)|
4 - 1 NYR
|SHG - EN - Brandon Dubinsky (2) ASST: Michal Rozsival (1)|
5 - 1 NYR
|Peter Regin (1) ASST: Mike Fisher (1), Erik Karlsson (1)|
5 - 2 NYR
|Alex Kovalev Hooking against Ryan Callahan|
|Peter Regin Interference on goalkeeper against Henrik Lundqvist|
|Chris Neil Too many men/ice - bench|
|Artem Anisimov Holding against Jonathan Cheechoo|
|Chris Kelly Holding against Ryan Callahan|
|Marc Staal Hi-sticking against Jason Spezza|
|Jarkko Ruutu Interference against Aaron Voros|
|Chris Higgins Tripping against Alex Kovalev|
|Donald Brashear Fighting (maj) against Matt Carkner|
|Matt Carkner Fighting (maj) against Donald Brashear|
|Brian Boyle Hooking against Ryan Shannon|
|Aaron Voros Fighting (maj) against Mike Fisher|
|Mike Fisher Fighting (maj) against Aaron Voros|
|SA: 33||TOI: 58:36|
|Saves: 29||EV: 15 - 19|
|PIM: 0||PP: 14 - 14|
|SV%: .879||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 34||TOI: 59:46|
|Saves: 32||EV: 25 - 27|
|PIM: 0||PP: 6 - 6|
|SV%: .941||SH: 1 - 1|