Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rangers Surge To Three Straight

The Rangers did what they had to do tonight, taking advantage of a Hurricanes team without Erik Cole and Cory Stillman to post a dominant 4-1 win in Raleigh. Carolina also lost Justin Williams (undisclosed) and Bret Hedican (concussion) during the crucial contest which allowed the Blueshirts to come away victorious there for the first time in five years. The timing was perfect as it bolstered the club's playoff aspirations, improving their record to 28-24-5, good for 61 points. With 25 games remaining and with Toronto tying Montreal for eighth and the Islanders winning, the Blueshirts know they must continue to pile up the W's.

And right now, they are as cohesive as they have been all season long. Sean Avery was his usual self, distracting Cam Ward on two power play goals by Karel Rachunek and Brendan Shanahan. New acquisition Pascal Dupuis fit right in on that third line and scored in his Ranger debut off a nifty Matt Cullen feed to give the club some cushion moments after ex-Cane defenseman Aaron Ward blocked an Andrew Ladd shot off a two-on-one. The Canes never recovered from the momentum swinging goal.

A tacky high sticking call on Eric Staal enabled the suddenly revamped Ranger power play to put the contest away. Avery redirected a point shot leaving an easy rebound for a streaking Shanahan to deposit for his team-leading 28th. Avery finished with two assists, pushing his Ranger total to five points (1-4-5) in four games. So not only has he agitated the opposition but he's putting up points every game.

In a seesaw first, Michael Nylander started the scoring by finishing off a Marcel Hossa pass in the slot for the team's first PPG of the night. It was his 19th. Jaromir Jagr drew three Canes to him and got the puck to Hossa, who in turn left it for Nylander to bury at 18:47. But a mistake by Karel Rachunek on the next shift allowed the Canes to tie it. A giveaway led to a two-on-one allowing Staal to setup Ladd for the equalizer with 30 seconds left in the stanza.

Rachunek would later atone for his error by blasting home a Nylander feed for another power play marker. He would also notch an assist on Shanahan's third period tally to make the Rangers a perfect three for three on the man-advantage. It was the second consecutive game they registered three power play goals.

Henrik Lundqvist was sharp again in stopping 23 of 24 shots his way. His D for the most part once again made his job easier. That said, he did make some nice stops in posting his 24th win of the season. The Swede had to like the attention to detail his teammates were displaying in breaking up several Canes' opportunities.

Though the Rangers failed to pickup any ground on Toronto (4-2 over Forsberg-less Philly), the Islanders (4-1 over hapless Boston) and Tampa Bay (3-2 over Washington in the shootout), they did inch closer to that eight spot which is occupied by three teams (Mtl, Tor and NYI). And the victory also put them just four behind Carolina with three games at hand. Here is the updated playoff picture:

Pts GR
6.Tampa Bay 68 23
7.Carolina 65 22
8.Montreal 64 23
9.Toronto 64 24
10.Islanders 64 24
11.Rangers 61 25

The first place Sabres came from behind to defeat the Oilers 2-1 in overtime. The hero was Daniel Briere, who in one motion during a thrilling two-on-one stopped on a dime and then roofed one past a shocked Dwayne Roloson 1:02 into the extra session to put Buffalo six up on the Devils and one point back in front of Nashville for the Presidents Trophy lead. The call by legendary play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret:

"The cookie monster has struck again!"

A classic quote from Rick in reference to when the puck goes top shelf, where Mom hides the cookies. Most exciting announcer in the NHL. When he retires, it will be a sad day. Hopefully he'll get to call the Sabres winning the Cup this June. If ever someone deserved it along with a franchise and city, it's that place.

With Tampa recovering from an awful defensive lapse to allow Washington to tie it with 16.5 seconds left in regulation thanks to a clutch Marty St. Louis shootout tally and big stop from backup Marc Denis on Matt Pettinger, the Lightning have crept within one of slumping Southeast division leader Atlanta. With a game at hand and playing much better, they could pass the Thrashers and wind up atop the division. We'll find out down the stretch.

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