|ATL||1||0||1||0||1 (2 - 2)||3|
|NYR||0||1||1||0||0 (0 - 2)||2|
• PHOTO GALLERY
• RANGERS GAME CENTER
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Despite playing one of their best games of the season, the Rangers dropped a disappointing 3-2 decision to the Atlanta Thrashers when Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov scored in the shootout at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
The Rangers are now winless in their last four games (0-2-2). They fell to 2-3 in five overtime games, and 2-1 in the shootout this season.
Even in defeat, the Rangers did pick up a valuable point in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference standings by sending the game to overtime.
“I have no complaints,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “We just have to find a way to stay within ourselves, keep our attitude, and find a way to win a hockey game again.”
Atlanta actually outshot the Rangers 3-1 in the five-minute overtime period, although the Blueshirts held an overall 48-27 advantage in shots for the game. Henrik Lundqvist made his biggest save with 3:04 to go in the extra session when he made a sharp arm stop on Rich Peverly’s partial breakaway.
“I think everyone’s mad,” said Lundqvist. “But all you can do, I think, is to try and use that energy at the rink. I’m angry we’re not getting the wins. Of course it’s frustrating not to get the win.”
A quick flurry of action early in the third period caused a real rise and fall in the emotions of the home crowd at MSG. First, Atlanta was penalized for having too many men on the ice just 2:19 into the period, giving The Garden Faithful hope with the score tied 1-1. However the Thrashers’ Colby Armstrong scored a shorthanded goal at 3:06, a hugely deflating blow to the Rangers that put Atlanta back in front 2-1. But Gaborik scored a minute later on the very same power play to pull the Rangers even 2-2.
The dizzying turn of events took shape when Armstrong beat two Blueshirts to the puck along the right-wing boards after defenseman Ron Hainsey had hammered the puck the length of the ice on the penalty kill. Armstrong collected the puck and muscled his way forward before snapping a rising shot into the top of the net for his seventh goal overall, and first shorthanded.
Instead of hanging their heads, the Rangers struck back quickly to once again tie the game. Ryan Callahan worked the puck to Michael Del Zotto 20 feet from the Thrashers’ net, and Del Zotto sent a quick pass to a wide-open Gaborik in the left circle. Gaborik wristed his league-leading 23rd goal of the season past a diving Hedberg as the fans let loose a loud roar, while most likely also letting out a collective sigh of relief.
Another major exhale took place late in the third period when the Rangers killed off 1:26 worth of a two-man disadvantage with their top two penalty-killing defensemen -- Marc Staal and Dan Girardi -- in the penalty box. Lundqvist made two huge saves, and the threesome of Wade Redden, Chris Drury, and Callahan turned in an amazing effort to keep the score tied.
“We stepped up there and pulled it off,” said Lundqvist.
“That’s a big reason we end up getting a point (in the standings),” added Tortorella.
The Rangers were bolstered by the return of center Brandon Dubinsky to the lineup. Dubinsky, who had missed 13 games after suffering a broken right hand, played his first game since Nov. 7. Skating in the middle of Gaborik and Christopher Higgins on the top line, Dubinsky provided energy, grit, and skill to the Rangers attack.
Although held without a shot on goal, Dubinsky had an impressive game, creating several scoring chances for his linemates with sharp passes and strong work along the boards. He logged 24:06 worth of ice-time, and paired with Higgins at the end of the 5-on-3 penalty kill late in the third to help preserve the 2-2 tie at the time.
“Right now we’re finding ways not to win, and that has to do with confidence,” said Dubinsky. “But we played a pretty solid game tonight. So we just have to keep at it.”
The Rangers finally broke through after 37 minutes of frustration against Hedberg to pull even 1-1 late in the second period. And it took a simply amazing play by Del Zotto to help make it happen.
With the Rangers skating on the power play, four Blueshirts found themselves caught in the offensive zone as the Thrashers cleared the puck to center ice. Three Atlanta players broke out of the zone looking for a shorthanded odd-man rush, but Del Zotto swiftly skated across the ice to beat everyone to the puck and help the Rangers avert danger.
But the talented 19-year-old rookie wasn’t content with just breaking up the potential odd-man rush.
Del Zotto skated back to his own end, setting up behind his own net to better survey the ice. Slowly Del Zotto skated forward, and then he zipped a perfect home run pass right on to the stick of Callahan all the way at the Thrashers’ blueline.
Callahan had a step on Atlanta defenseman Zach Bogosian, skated hard to the net, deked to his backhand, and then proceeded to beat Hedberg with a forehand shot with 2:50 remaining in the second period.
“Me and Cally made eye contact,” said Del Zotto. “The middle was wide open, I put it on his tape, and he made a great move and scored.”
Not only did Callahan’s seventh goal of the season tie the game, but it lifted a huge burden off the Rangers’ collective shoulders. Up until that point the Rangers could not find a way to solve Hedberg, even though they tested him from all angles, from in close and with long shots. Despite a large territorial advantage, and an even bigger advantage in shots on goal, the Rangers had trailed on the scoreboard since 16:41 of the first period when Slava Kozlov beat Lundqvist with a power play slap shot.
Hedberg stopped 34 of 35 shots through 40 minutes of play as the two teams skated to the second intermission tied at one apiece. He stopped all 16 shots he faced in the first period, including a pair on Gaborik off neat passing plays -- the first with Higgins, the second with Dubinsky on a 3-on-2 rush. But his best save came at 16:41 when he made a lunging stick save right in front of the goal line to rob Kotalik from ten feet out.
Although the Thrashers had the early edge in the second period, the Rangers came on and finished with 19 shots in the middle stanza as Hedberg denied all but Callahan’s score. Perhaps his best save of the period came with 5:14 to play when he quickly made his way from right to left across the goal line to stone Sean Avery on a power play rebound attempt from five feet out. And Hedberg was sharp right up until the buzzer, stopping a pair of Michal Rozsival screened shots in the waning seconds.
“It’s disappointing, for sure, but we’re staying pretty positive in here,” said Del Zotto, who notched his fifth multiple-point game of the season with a pair of assists. “Every day we’re working hard trying to turn things around, but it’s pretty tough right now.”
The Rangers will look to get back on the winning side of the ledger when they skate against the Islanders on Wednesday night at MSG. The following evening the same two teams will get together again, only this time at the Nassau Coliseum.
|PPG - Vyacheslav Kozlov (6) ASST: Toby Enstrom (20), Ilya Kovalchuk (14)|
1 - 0 ATL
|PPG - Ryan Callahan (7) ASST: Michael Del Zotto (14)|
1 - 1 Tie
|SHG - Colby Armstrong (7) ASST: Ron Hainsey (5), Rich Peverley (20)|
2 - 1 ATL
|PPG - Marian Gaborik (23) ASST: Michael Del Zotto (15), Ryan Callahan (5)|
2 - 2 Tie
|1||M. Gaborik||I. Kovalchuk|
|2||A. Kotalik||V. Kozlov|
|Wade Redden Holding against Chris Thorburn|
|Evander Kane Holding against Ilkka Heikkinen|
|Ron Hainsey Tripping against Chris Drury|
|Zach Bogosian Hooking against Ryan Callahan|
|Eric Boulton Too many men/ice - bench|
|Toby Enstrom Interference against Marian Gaborik|
|Marc Staal Hooking against Maxim Afinogenov|
|Dan Girardi Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|SA: 48||TOI: 64:55|
|Saves: 46||EV: 35 - 35|
|PIM: 0||PP: 11 - 13|
|SV%: .958||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 27||TOI: 64:55|
|Saves: 25||EV: 22 - 22|
|PIM: 0||PP: 3 - 4|
|SV%: .926||SH: 0 - 1|