Monday, December 3, 2007

Cullen's revenge as Canes blank Blueshirts

You had to figure that the Hurricanes would come out flying in this game tonight at MSG. Especially after being thoroughly embarrassed by Buffalo 8-1 the other night.



That's exactly what happened as Peter Laviolette's first place club came in more determined and carried the play in a 4-0 shutout of the Rangers before a frustrated crowd who hardly saw a semblance of a scoring chance. A testament to just how sharp the Canes were throughout. They won all the battles to loose pucks and were extremely defensively sound which made it a lost cause for Tom Renney's club which for some inexplicable reason wasn't ready after two good efforts in a row.


Maybe they rested on their laurels and thought the struggling Canes wouldn't come hard. Or maybe they just weren't ready to play which is inexcusable. Especially in such a tight knit division and conference where you can easily go from top three seed to fighting for the final spot just like that.

Carolina was much sharper from the outside with their aggressive forecheck which helped generate two first period goals. Not surprisingly, ex-Ranger Matt Cullen was involved in both.

"It was fun to come in and get a win," a pleased Cullen expressed to the AP later. "It's important for us because we've sort of been struggling. It was important for us to have a good defensive game which was key to the whole night."

Making his first return to Broadway after anchoring the third line in his only year here, the overlooked 31 year-old American notched a couple of more assists to hike his point total to 27 (6-21-27) which btw is more than any Ranger.

Think that has to do with the system he plays in? You don't say. Some Ranger fans will have you believe that Renney is a great coach and that this team is perfect. When you see the kind of success Cullen is having back in his familiar spot with the more North American Canes, it clearly raises a question as to why the New York team doesn't get more offense consistently.

After netting nine in their last two wins over the Islanders and Senators, Renney's club had nothing. How was it possible that only the fourth line of Hollweg, Betts and Orr could show up ready to play while the other three lines did absolutely nothing?

Yes. It was the stonehand fourth line which worked very hard and generated the team's best chances against Cam Ward who stopped all 28 for the easy shutout. That's how uncompetitive the Blueshirts were. Almost every shot came from the outside with nobody in front to get to rebounds or deflect pucks.

"You'd like to think that we're sort of mature enough as a team to recognize you've got to sort of maintain some equilibrium," Renney lamented afterwards. "Tonight it just wasn't there. There wasn't sort of that synapse between the brain and feet. ... They earned the win right from the drop of the puck, but we didn't measure up as an opponent."

Summing up the opening stanza in which the Canes got nine of the first 11 shots, rookie Brandon Dubinsky had two chances to clear the zone but made awful decisions which led directly to Cullen feeding an open Scott Walker who tucked the puck past Henrik Lundqvist to give Carolina a lead they would never relinquish.

Just when New York began to play a little better, a brutal shift at the conclusion of the stanza led to Cory Stillman's first of the night with only 16 seconds remaining. With the top line unable to get the puck out, Justin Williams fed Stillman who centered the puck off a defenseman in front past Lundqvist for a two-goal lead.

The Rangers came out sharper in the second and dictated the play for several minutes with an aggressive cycle led by Jaromir Jagr. But they couldn't find a way to get a puck past Ward and make it a contest despite an 11-5 SOG advantage.

The final stanza saw the Blueshirts flounder on a couple of power plays despite a few opportunities. But Michal Rozsival's usually accurate one-timers sailed wide and then a setup for Jagr was flubbed by one of those moronic sticks which break way too easily. When are these players going to wake up and go back to wood?

Jagr's miss led directly to the Carolina third goal as a streaking David Tanabe flew out of the box and into a breakaway wristing one past Lundqvist's stick into the back of the net with 8:30 left sending most of the fans including myself to the exits.

Stillman would add his second of the night a couple of minutes later to complete the scoring.

It was that kind of game. You never got the impression the Rangers were ever in it or would come close to scoring. That's how diligent the Canes were in every zone. They skated, scored, backchecked ferociously and played like a desperate team who had been read the riot act by a good coach after being routed.

I actually wasn't too surprised by what transpired. Whenever you have a struggling team which is good coming in on the heels of a blowout, it usually becomes a trap game which is difficult to win.

It's not the end of the world.

The Rangers must regroup and prepare for the Maple Leafs Thursday before heading to Atlanta the following night.

"It was a real stinker," Shanahan said. "There was nothing good about this one."

That's about what kind of night it was. One to forget for sure.

Time to move on.

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