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• PHOTO GALLERY
• RANGERS GAME CENTER
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Playing without three of their top forwards -- the injured trio of Marian Gaborik, Sean Avery, and Christopher Higgins -- the Rangers fell short out in Minnesota, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday night.
“You can’t whine about that,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said in addressing the spate of recent injuries that has befallen the team. “There are some people in our lineup that are supposed to be offensive players that haven’t contributed enough.”
The Rangers, who are now 1-4-1 in their last six games, did receive a lift from rookie forward Dane Byers, who scored his first NHL goal after being recalled from Hartford to fill the void up front.
Trailing 3-1 in the third period, the Rangers pulled within one when Marc Staal scored at 5:01. Vinny Prospal whipped a pass from right wing to left, where Staal proceeded to fire a perfect shot through an Artem Anisimov screen in front for his second goal of the season.
“We played better in the third period,” said Prospal. “But we didn’t generate enough to get it to overtime.”
At the morning skate, Tortorella had announced that Gaborik would not play -- which was not a big surprise since he also did not play in Wednesday’s 3-1 road defeat on Long Island and hadn’t skated since getting injured Monday night against the Coyotes -- and neither would Avery or Higgins. Both of those players got nicked up on Wednesday and did not take part in practice on Thursday.
Gaborik did take part in the morning skate in Minnesota on Friday, but it was more of a test than anything. Afterwards he expressed disappointment at not being able to play in his first return to the city where he spent the first eight years of his career.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Gaborik, who is the Wild’s all-time leader in goals (219) and points (437). “If it had been any other game, I wouldn’t even think about (playing), but, obviously this was a special game.”
Byers barely made it to the Xcel Energy Center on Friday evening after being recalled by the Rangers from Hartford earlier in the day. Bad weather caused massive travel delays into the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, and Byers did not arrive in time to take part in the pregame skate. However, he joined the team on the bench in time to take his first shift two minutes into the game.
“When I was fully dressed, I think there were eight minutes left until the puck was to be dropped,” said the 23-year-old Byers. “There were a bunch of emotions all day long with all of the delays and not thinking I’d get here in time. Then I didn’t have a proper pre-game meal. The whole time, though, I’m thinking that I’m going to be playing for the New York Rangers. And then it turns out to be a really nice night except for the loss.”
And it was Byers who provided a rare highlight for the Rangers over the first 40 minutes of play. With the Rangers trailing 1-0 early in the second period, Byers found himself behind the Wild defense, picked the puck out of Niklas Backstrom’s pads, and flipped it into the net for the first goal of his National Hockey League career, tying the game 1-1 at 5:23.
“It is a big thrill,” Byers said of the goal. “It’s nice to get that first goal, but we didn’t get the win.”
It was the second straight game that a Rangers player recorded his first NHL goal, as P.A. Parenteau also turned the trick in Wednesday’s contest against the Islanders. For Byers, the goal came in his second NHL game. His first game took place on Feb. 5, 2008 at Madison Square Garden against the Los Angeles Kings.
Byers and his teammates did not have much time to relish his accomplishment, however. Minnesota answered back at 7:49 of the second period, as Eric Belanger scored his third goal of the season. Martin Havlat made a quick pass off the right-wing boards, and Belanger put the puck past Henrik Lundqvist as he streaked through the slot.
“When we start to gain momentum, we let them take advantage of our mistakes,” said Prospal.
Things turned worse for the visitors when Antti Miettinen scored his first goal of the season with only 58.3 seconds remaining in the middle stanza to up the Wild’s lead to 3-1. Staal turned the puck over in the neutral zone, and the Wild immediately transitioned into offensive mode. Wild captain Mikko Koivu carried the puck into the Rangers’ zone on right wing, made a pretty inside-out move against defenseman Dan Girardi, and fed Miettinen who was driving to the net.
“We beat ourselves in a couple areas,” said Tortorella. “But you overcome those mistakes by scoring a couple of goals here and there. And we just haven’t been able to generate enough there.”
The assist was Koivu’s second in the game. He also had the primary assist on Petr Sykora’s game-opening goal 18:31 into the first period. A Sykora steal started that scoring play, which ended in a tic-tac-toe passing sequence between Andrew Brunette, Koivu, and Sykora -- with Sykora skating through the slot to convert Koivu’s feed from behind the cage for his second goal of the season.
Things could have been much worse for the Rangers, but Lundqvist made a series of outstanding saves in the second period when the Wild created a flurry of excellent scoring chances.
Midway through the second, Lundqvist stoned Owen Nolan twice with his right pad -- first on a hard slap shot off a 3-on-2 rush, and then on the rebound attempt in which Lundqvist had to drop into the splits to make the save. Thirty seconds later Minnesota’s Miettinen weaved his way to left wing in the Rangers’ zone and zipped a rising shot towards the top of the net, but Lundqvist flashed out his glove to make a terrific save.
At 13:40 of the second, Wild defenseman Greg Zanon let loose a bomb from just inside the blueline, and Lundqvist had to make a big left-pad save through heavy traffic in front.
With Gaborik, Higgins, and Avery watching from the press box upstairs, the Rangers did not generate many prime scoring chances, though their best one came only two minutes into the contest. An open Anisimov fired a quick shot from the slot, but Backstrom made a strong pad save.
“I don’t know if it has anything to do with those guys being out,” alternate captain Ryan Callahan said of the Rangers’ lack of quality scoring chances on the night. “Obviously they are a big part of our offense, but we’ve got guys in here that can step up and create things.”
All told, the Rangers were outshot 32-20 by the Wild. Enver Lisin, who played a season-high 20:18, and Byers led the Rangers with three shots apiece.
The Rangers will now return to The Garden looking to get back on track. They host the Boston Bruins in an Original Six matchup on Sunday afternoon.
|Petr Sykora (2) Wrist shot - ASST: Mikko Koivu (8), Andrew Brunette (4)|
1 - 0 MIN
|Dane Byers (1) Wrist shot - ASST: Wade Redden (4)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Eric Belanger (3) Wrist shot - ASST: Martin Havlat (5), Petr Sykora (1)|
2 - 1 MIN
|Antti Miettinen (1) Wrist shot - ASST: Mikko Koivu (9)|
3 - 1 MIN
|Marc Staal (2) Snap shot - ASST: Vinny Prospal (13), Artem Anisimov (4)|
3 - 2 MIN
|Eric Belanger Kneeing against Michael Del Zotto|
|Marc Staal Kneeing against Marek Zidlicky|
|Michal Rozsival Hooking against Chuck Kobasew|
|Dane Byers Roughing against Cal Clutterbuck|
|Andrew Brunette Interference against Dan Girardi|
|SA: 32||TOI: 58:30|
|Saves: 29||EV: 25 - 28|
|PIM: 0||PP: 3 - 3|
|SV%: .906||SH: 1 - 1|
|SA: 20||TOI: 59:36|
|Saves: 18||EV: 17 - 19|
|PIM: 0||PP: 1 - 1|
|SV%: .900||SH: 0 - 0|