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• PHOTO GALLERY
• GAME CENTER
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Henrik Lundqvist was feeling too ill on Saturday night to take part in the opener of the Rangers’ three-game road trip in Phoenix. By the end of the night, his teammates might have been feeling queasy, too, as the Rangers lost their fifth consecutive contest, falling to the Coyotes 3-2 at Jobing.com Arena despite a strong third-period rally that nearly tied the game.
“We couldn’t finish at first, but I thought we stayed with it,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “We got rewarded at the end, but it’s certainly not enough.”
The Rangers spotted Phoenix a 3-0 lead before Marian Gaborik finally put the Blueshirts on the scoreboard with 10:18 left to play in the third period. Gaborik completed a gorgeous passing sequence with Erik Christensen off a 2-on-1 down low for his 30th goal of the season.
Gaborik has now scored 30 or more goals in six of his nine seasons in the NHL. He is also the first Rangers player to record a 30-goal season since Jaromir Jagr in 2006-07.
Moments later, Sean Avery cut the deficit to one by scoring his sixth goal on a 2-on-1 rush with Christopher Higgins. After going two straight road games without a goal, and their goal-less streak on the road at 202:05, the Rangers scored two goals in Phoenix in a span of 2:08.
With 6:12 remaining in the third period, the Rangers were awarded a power play as Phoenix’s Taylor Pyatt was whistled for hooking. Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera, a former Ranger, made one big save, and teammate Vernon Fiddler blocked a pair of Chris Drury slap shots as the Rangers were unable to take advantage of the big opportunity.
Gaborik later came within inches of tying the game with 1:20 left on the clock. While killing a penalty, Gaborik chipped the rebound of a Vinny Prospal shot off the post, coming ever so close to pulling the Rangers even.
“That’s the way it goes right now, I guess,” said Gaborik. “We just have to battle through it.”
Their impressive rally fell short, however, and as a result the Rangers head to Denver for Sunday’s match with the Avalanche toting a five-game losing skid.
With their No. 1 goalie watching from the end of the bench, the Rangers surrendered two goals in the opening 6:47 of the game, and three total in the first period, en route to the defeat.
Rookie Chad Johnson made his third career NHL start, and allowed a goal on the second shot he faced. Phoenix captain Shane Doan made a great individual effort chipping the puck between the Blueshirts’ Michael Del Zotto and Prospal on left wing before splitting the two Rangers himself. Doan collected the puck, broke in alone, and banked a shot off of Johnson and over the goal line for his 17th goal at 6:06.
Del Zotto and Johnson’s rough opening period was just getting started, however. Only 41 seconds after Doan’s goal, the Coyotes struck again. Del Zotto pinched to keep the puck in the offensive zone, but was unable to do so. Instead the Coyotes took off on a 3-on-1 rush the other way, and Robert Lang sent a pinpoint head-man pass to Mikkel Boedker. The youngster settled a bouncing puck just in time to slip a shot past Johnson, who moved to his right as Boedker finished to his left, for his first goal of the season at 6:47.
Boedker’s goal came on the Coyotes’ third shot of the period. It would take Phoenix only four more shots to open up a 3-0 lead.
Strong grunt work in the corner and behind the Rangers’ net by the Phoenix forwards led to Sami Lepisto’s first NHL goal at 14:13, which ended up being the game-winner.
As the Coyotes kept the puck alive behind the goal line, Lepisto slipped in from the blueline. He finally received a quick pass from Fiddler and proceeded to whip a shot past a screened Johnson. Del Zotto was on the ice for the third straight goal-against.
For Lepisto, who entered the league during the 2007-08 season with the Washington Capitals, it was a memorable goal, his first after 61 games at the NHL level. For the Rangers it was another setback on a night that began with the first delivered before the game had even started when it was announced that Lundqvist would be unable to play.
The first period came to an end with no more goal-scoring by the home team, and Phoenix would not score again for the rest of the game. The Rangers, however had managed onlyfour shots against LaBarbera in the opening 20 minutes.
The visitors showed much more jump in the second period, with a great early shift by the line of Avery, Higgins, and Brandon Dubinsky drawing a Phoenix penalty and providing a spark of hope that things would get better in the middle 20 minutes. The power play, despite a booming drive by Del Zotto that nearly beat LaBarbera, did not score, and the Rangers could not maintain their early momentum.
Although they played much better in the second period than they had in the first, the Rangers took far too many penalties to sustain any positive momentum. The penalty killing unit was outstanding, killing off four straight Phoenix power plays in the middle period, and even produced excellent scoring chances on the rush by Dubinsky and Higgins.
“We have to be said,” explained Gaborik. “We can’t win games if we take four-five penalties in the second period and third. We have to really work on being disciplined.”
Despite their strong work on the penalty kill, the second period concluded the same way the first period had, with the Rangers trailing 3-0.
A third-period rally was in store for the Rangers, but they had dug too deep a hole and were unable to climb all the way out. Now they get right back out on the ice against a very good Avalanche squad on Sunday, looking to snap their slide.
“I thought we battled back and made a game of it,” said Tortorella. “So we’ll continue to try and grind through it.”
|Shane Doan (16) Wrist shot - ASST: Taylor Pyatt (5), Vernon Fiddler (13)|
1 - 0 PHX
|Mikkel Boedker (1) Wrist shot - ASST: Robert Lang (18), Taylor Pyatt (6)|
2 - 0 PHX
|Sami Lepisto (1) Slapshot - ASST: Vernon Fiddler (14), Daniel Winnik (14)|
3 - 0 PHX
|Marian Gaborik (30) Wrist shot - ASST: Erik Christensen (6)|
3 - 1 PHX
|Sean Avery (6) Wrist shot - ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (18)|
3 - 2 PHX
|Dan Girardi Tripping against Martin Hanzal|
|Lauri Korpikoski Tripping against Chris Higgins|
|Chris Drury Slashing against Petr Prucha|
|Marian Gaborik Boarding against Daniel Winnik|
|Michal Rozsival Interference against Matthew Lombardi|
|Michal Rozsival Slashing against Lauri Korpikoski|
|Petr Prucha Hooking against Dan Girardi|
|Erik Christensen Hooking against Petr Prucha|
|Taylor Pyatt Hooking against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Michal Rozsival Hi-sticking against Petr Prucha|