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• PHOTO GALLERY
• RANGERS GAME CENTER
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Christopher Higgins waited half the season to score his first home-ice goal as a member of the Rangers. But it was well worth the wait.
After his team let a two-goal lead slip away late in the third period, Higgins scored the game-winner with 1:29 to play to lift the Rangers past the Boston Bruins 3-2 on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
Higgins used his considerable speed to gain a step on the Bruins defense, drove hard towards the net, and when it looked like he would carry the puck behind the cage, he instead shifted his hands to tuck the puck inside the near post for his fifth goal of the season, setting off a wild celebration inside MSG.
“It kind of figures that’s the one that finally goes in, because I’ve had better scoring chances than that,” Higgins said after the game. “Fortunately it came at the right time. To be able to contribute obviously feels good.”
With the win, the Rangers now have earned points in eight of their last nine games, posting a 6-1-2 record in that span.
Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 29 shots in a 1-0 victory over the Bruins back on Nov. 1 at The Garden, finished with 26 saves on Monday. He lost his bid for another shutout when defenseman Matt Hunwick scored a shorthanded goal on a broken play with 5:27 left in the third period.
Blake Wheeler, who assisted on Hunwick’s score, then tied the game with 4:01 remaining on the clock. Wheeler whizzed a shot from the high slot past Lundqvist’s glove just as Rangers’ defenseman Michal Rozsival was clearing himself out of the net after a backcheck sent him flying past Lundqvist.
Instead of caving in, the Rangers took their cue from head coach John Tortorella, who remained positive behind the bench, according to center Erik Christensen.
“I credit John,” said Christensen. “Twenty or thirty seconds go by and all of a sudden he’s back being positive telling us there was time left on the clock, and I think that kind of settled us down. John has this reputation as a pretty intense guy, but for him to come out and say, ‘hey, relax, keep playing’, was huge.”
The players responded, and Higgins delivered the decisive blow for the Blueshirts.
Making it look very easy most of the night, Lundqvist was extremely sound positionally, playing his angles well and allowing almost no second chances. When challenged one-on-one - also very rare on this night as the Rangers played exceptionally well defensively until scrambling late -- Lundqvist was up to the task.
Perhaps his best save of the game came early in the third period, when he stared down Marc Savard’s wicked 15-foot snap shot from left wing with the Bruins skating on the power play. That had to be a sweet moment for Lundqvist, who had chased Savard to the corner seven minutes into the second after Savard had clipped him with his stick following a save.
“I don’t mind a physical game,” said Lundqvist. “But you don’t go after the whistle.”
Holding on to a slim 1-0 lead in the second period, the Rangers received the type of scintillating clutch offensive play they have been searching for most of the season. And surprisingly it was not provided by Marian Gaborik, the Rangers’ sniper who leads the league with 27 goals.
Instead it was Christensen who stepped up to score a highlight-reel goal at the 7:34 mark of the second to up the Rangers’ advantage to 2-0. At full speed Christensen collected a chip pass from Brandon Dubinsky in the Bruins’ zone, blew past Boston’s all-star defenseman Zdeno Chara, and finished by slipping the puck between Tuukka Rask’s pads for his second goal in the past three games.
“That was Dubi’s play all the way,” said Christensen. “He made the perfect play, really textbook. And the move I really wanted to make didn’t happen, but it worked out.”
For a team that has desperately sought secondary scoring from players other than Gaborik, Christensen’s goal was a real shot in the arm. And it provided the Rangers breathing room in what was, as expected with these two excellent defensive teams, a low-scoring game.
“The last couple of games I’ve been feeling pretty good,” said Christensen who has two goals and two assists over the previous three matches. “When you’re feeling good about yourself that kind of stuff really comes out of you.”
Riding the momentum provided by Christensen’s score, the Rangers played a very strong second period. The Rangers totaled 17 shots on goal in the middle 20 minutes, with Gaborik securing a host of excellent scoring chances himself. Rask, however, was extremely sharp, and the Rangers headed into the second intermission still leading 2-0.
Ales Kotalik opened up the scoring with a power play goal at 9:58 of the first period for the Rangers. Dubinsky directed a pass to Kotalik who was stationed at the top of the left circle, and Kotalik hammered a one-timer past Rask to the short side for his seventh goal of the season, and first since Nov. 5 in Edmonton, a span of 22 games.
“When you find yourself in this kind of situation, and you expect a lot from yourself, you’re reaching for anything to get you back out of the hole,” Kotalik said. “It was a relief. I admit it.”
The assist -- the first of two on the night for Dubinsky, who has recorded nine points in his last seven games -- was the 100th point of his National Hockey League career.
Although pleased with Kotalik’s goal and the early 1-0 lead, the Rangers were also a bit frustrated because the Bruins uncharacteristically took four minor penalties in the first 9:58 of the game and the Blueshirts converted on just one of those power plays. They even had 1:09 worth of a 5-on-3 power play beginning at 8:23, but failed to manage a shot on goal against an aggressive Bruins’ penalty killing unit.
Late in the first period, the Bruins were awarded their first power play and the visitors came alive offensively during their two-minute advantage. Lundqvist made three excellent stops to hold the Bruins at bay, and the 1-0 lead held up through 20 minutes of play.
“I thought we played a strong game, just let up a little bit there to let them back in the game,” said Higgins. “But we played well and were confident we were going to win even after they tied it up.”
The Rangers will try and follow up these two points with another pair on Wednesday when they host the Dallas Stars at MSG. The Blueshirts have not won consecutive home games since Oct. 26 and Nov. 1.
|PPG - Ales Kotalik (7) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (12), Ryan Callahan (11)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Erik Christensen (2) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (13), Michael Del Zotto (16)|
2 - 0 NYR
|SHG - Matt Hunwick (5) ASST: Blake Wheeler (13), David Krejci (14)|
2 - 1 NYR
|Blake Wheeler (8) ASST: Michael Ryder (7), Matt Hunwick (6)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Chris Higgins (5) ASST: Chris Drury (10), Ryan Callahan (12)|
3 - 2 NYR
|Daniel Paille Tripping against Chris Drury|
|Vladimir Sobotka Holding against Chris Drury|
|Dennis Wideman Hooking against Michael Del Zotto|
|Vladimir Sobotka Hooking against Ryan Callahan|
|Sean Avery Too many men/ice - bench|
|Marian Gaborik Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Michal Rozsival Tripping against Vladimir Sobotka|
|Zdeno Chara Interference against Marian Gaborik|
|SA: 35||TOI: 59:08|
|Saves: 32||EV: 26 - 28|
|PIM: 0||PP: 4 - 5|
|SV%: .914||SH: 2 - 2|
|SA: 28||TOI: 59:59|
|Saves: 26||EV: 22 - 23|
|PIM: 0||PP: 4 - 4|
|SV%: .929||SH: 0 - 1|