Sunday, February 18, 2007

Good First Period Enough For Rangers

It was ugly but the shorthanded Rangers got the desired result: two points. Just take it and move on because they need every point they can get in this Eastern race. They got first period goals from Martin Straka (PPG) and the rejuvenated Marcel Hossa (5th in last seven) and then relied on solid goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist (21 saves) to get by the Blackhawks 2-1.

It was the first time the Rangers hosted Chicago since 2002. That should never happen between two Original Six teams. But that's for another day.

Truthfully, this was a boring game. But also, let's give credit to former Ottawa netminder Patrick Lalime for holding the Blueshirts to just two. Lalime really played well to keep his team in it and made several outstanding stops. All in all, he turned aside 27 of 29. His goaltending allowed his team to gain more confidence and they played better. Eventually, leading scorer Martin Havlat scored his 23rd with 1:15 left in the second when his centering feed banked in off Lundqvist. Havlat btw was outstanding in the final two periods. The former Sen was dangerous everytime he touched the puck and nearly tied it late when he abused Aaron Ward but Lundqvist stoned him to preserve a crucial Ranger win.

The Rangers (29-25-5) now have 63 points which puts them three behind eighth seeded Toronto. They'll need to play better in a home and home series with the Devils with the first one at CAA Tuesday before the season series wraps up at The Garden Thursday. What they can at least be happy about is that Lundqvist showed no ill effects from that puck to the left shoulder yesterday. He was sharp as was Hossa. Jaromir Jagr and Straka again had good games. And Michael Nylander, Sean Avery and Petr Prucha looked good as well. But Matt Cullen, who setup Hossa's winner was by far the most effective forward. He was everywhere and created chances. He looks much better lately.

Without Marek Malik, the D was a little shaky late in protecting the lead. But Thomas Pock wasn't bad pairing alongside Michal Rozsival.

With Brendan Shanahan recovering from that scary collision at St. Vincent's Hospital today before being released, enforcer Colton Orr was back in the lineup. He did take the only Ranger minor of the game with a high sticking penalty in the third but the team killed it off easily. Updating Shanahan's condition, he doesn't have any kind of neck injury. The question is did he suffer a concussion. His status will be updated during the week. The club will have to determine if he needs to be placed on the IR.

In other action, the Pens stayed hot with a 3-2 win over the Caps. Sidney Crosby picked up an assist to increase his league-leading total to 91 points. Pittsburgh is up to 73 points, just five behind New Jersey with a game at hand. They're now 14-0-2 in their last 16.

The Habs nearly blew a three-goal third period in Columbus but held on thanks to Jaroslav Halak, who had a sparkling NHL debut to help the struggling club finally snap their six-game skid and tie the Leafs for eighth in the conference.

Here is the up to date Eastern race:

Pts GR
*1.Buffalo 83 23
*2.Devils 78 23
*3.Tampa 69 22
4.Pens 73 24
5.Sens 71 23
6.Atlanta 69 21
7.Carolina 67 21
8.Habs 66 21
9.Leafs 66 23
10.Isles 64 23
11.Rangers 63 23
12.Bruins 58 25
13.Florida 57 22
14.Caps 55 23
15.Flyers 40 24

*current division leader

Note: Wins are the first tiebreaker.

Islanders Acquire Marc-Andre Bergeron: In an attempt to shore up their blueline, the Islanders acquired defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron earlier today along with a 2008 third round pick from Edmonton in exchange for Russian defenseman Denis Grebeshkov. The 26 year-old Bergeron had eight goals and 16 assists totaling 24 points for the Oilers this season in 55 contests. He'll run the Isles point on the power play. It's a solid addition. The baffling aspect of this deal is how GM Garth Snow was also able to pry a third round pick in this deal when Grebeshkov is home playing in Russia for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv. While he was former first round pick with LA, he's only three years younger than Bergeron. Seems like a great trade for the Fishsticks.

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