From there, they nearly went ahead with an unbelievably dominant shift. For roughly two minutes, they pinned the Islanders in their end and generated chance after chance. So much so that they hit three posts and forced DiPietro to make some tough stops. But the Islander company man was up to the challenge on his way to finishing with an Islander franchise record 56 saves.
After all the hard work the Rangers had put in, they nearly let it slip when Andy Hilbert picked off a lazy Michael Nylander pass and moved around Marek Malik and in on Henrik Lundqvist. After deking Lundqvist to the forehand side, his shorthanded bid went off the post before going off the Swedish goalie. In the nick of time, Malik cleared it before another unfortunate bounce hurt his team.
The Rangers would fire 55 shots on DiPietro in regulation to the Islanders' 27. But they still went to OT. In it, nothing was decided as the clubs played more tenatively unlike the firewagon hockey we saw in which Sean Avery was every bit the pest and drove the Fishsticks crazy. Just for the record, he did everything legally though. After the Blueshirts lost Marcel Hossa to injury at the end of the second, the ex-Hollywood King moved up and played some inspired hockey. He was everywhere. He might not have registered any points but his influence was all over the ice. And though nothing was decided thru 65, ask any Islander about last night compared to the first four wins they had. They had those four easy. Not Monday on Versus.
The shootout hero would be Matt Cullen. He beat DiPietro high inside the bar with a wicked wrist shot. After Lundqvist pokechecked away Viktor Kozlov's backhand, DiPietro slid across to deny Jaromir Jagr's forehand deke try leaving the stage for Randy Robitaille to try to extend it. But Lundqvist denied him and got the Rangers the much needed two points they were looking for. And deservingly got in what amounted to their best game all season.
The win vaulted them to 10th with 71 points. Tied with the Leafs, they are ahead due to one more win with each having 16 games left. Now just two behind eighth seeded Carolina and one fewer than stumbling Montreal, the Rangers have gotten themselves right back in the race. With two games at hand on both and key match-ups against each, they now have a more realistic chance of pulling this off.
But before I go crazy, let's see what transpires Thursday in the anticipated rematch at Nassau Coliseum. At this juncture, it's one game at a time knowing full well any slip up could prove costly.
For the Fishsticks, they can thank DiPietro for the point which moved them up to 76, within two of sixth place Atlanta. He got the game's Third Star but in our estimation, should've been no worse than Second Star. If you want, give First Star to Cullen since he helped setup the tying goal and got the eventual shootout clincher. Prucha played a whale of a game as did Ortmeyer. But when do those guys never show up? They're always hustling.
As for Cullen, he has been playing some inspired hockey. Since being moved to the third line which he was more accustomed to last year in Carolina, the American forward has just been a different player. His hustle has been evident during even strength and especially on the penalty killing unit where he's notched a couple of shorthanded goals and generated other opportunities. He looks more and more like the player the Rangers signed. The work ethic has been splendid and it's about time No.5 gets some due for turning around his season!
The most exciting aspect of this rivalry is they get to do it all over again Thursday in Long Island.
Now for some more disturbing news which we were witness to courtesy of part of my entry at Hitting Back
While we're on topic about tonight's rivalry game. A few drunken fans went too far and spoiled it for themselves. I was witness to a mauling up around Section 423 near the concessions. This travesty was disturbing. But I was also informed that the Islander fan who was involved had one too many and was mouthing off the entire game. When he came together with a couple of Ranger fans, no security was around. But at first, it looked like they would just exchange words and go their separate ways. But the Fishstick fan made some disparaging remarks which incited the incident and led to him receiving some tough blows. Finally security stepped in to break it up and the ugliness ended. Still, this type of stuff should never happen. If you're an opposing fan and want to root on your team, by all means do so. But don't act like an obnoxious jerk and make it hard for fans around you. I don't condone what took place in response. But at the same time, opposing fans have to know where to draw the line. Clearly, this didn't happen in this particular case tonight.
I hope that I never have to see this kind of stuff happen ever again. People need to remember that this is a sporting event. Not civil war. And with that I'm out.