Sunday, February 17, 2008

Drury and Callahan lead Blueshirts to actual win over Western foe

A miracle of sorts took place earlier this afternoon at Seventh and 33rd. No. Santa Claus didn't arrive on 34th Street. However, the Rangers actually grinded out a well earned victory over a Western opponent, defeating the Sharks 3-1 to take their second in a row.

It was their first win against the opposite conference all season finishing only 1-7-2 with three total points in 10 games this season. That said, the much needed two points couldn't have come at a more appropriate time as it allowed Tom Renney's club to get to 67 points, pulling temporarily into sixth in the East a couple better than the rival Flyers, who host the Canadiens in a rematch from last night later tonight.

Though they controlled much of the action early on, it was the Sharks who got on the board first when one of the NHL's best playmaking pivots Joe Thornton centered for Jonathan Cheechoo in front, who beat Marek Malik to the spot and put home his 15th 3:31 into the contest.

Instead of getting down, the Blueshirts continued to work harder and finally drew even thanks to some grunt work down low by Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan. Following a power play, Callahan kept the puck alive putting it in the corner just out of the reach of San Jose netminder Evgeni Nabokov. A hustling Drury got to the loose puck and wisely centered for an open Callahan in front, who easily put in his fourth to tie the game at 11:34.

One thing which was noticeable was how chippy this game was. You saw plenty of one-on-one battles along the boards and recent San Jose pickup and notable goon Jody Shelley coming together with Ranger enforcer Colton Orr a few times. Neither fighter dropped the gloves instead opting to play hockey in a very competitive game.

While it's true both defensive-oriented clubs were solid, each netminder had to come up with big saves due to plenty of traffic in front. However, one sequence turned out to be the difference in the game. During a Ranger man-advantage, dangerous shorthanded forward Milan Michalek made a nice move to spin around recently re-signed defenseman Dan Girardi. But with him in, Henrik Lundqvist stood tall making the timely save which led to transition the other way.

Scott Gomez took a pass inside his end from Marty Straka and then did what he does best backing up the San Jose PK while on a three-on-two before dishing for a trailing Drury who made no mistake blistering a right slapper past Nabokov's glove top shelf. It was the resurgent Drury's seventh goal in the last nine games.

There's little doubt that the 31 year-old Trumbull Connecticut native is playing his best hockey after a disappointing first half which saw him a team worst in the plus/minus department. With a goal and a helper plus some decent work in the faceoff circle (6-for-12) and in his end, the former Sabre is finally stepping up and leading the Original Six team the way many thought. He was the best player on the ice and justifiably selected the game's No.1 Star.

With it being their second game in two days, it was apparent that they were running low on the fuel tank in the final period. However, Lundqvist was up to the challenge stopping all 12 San Jose shots on his way to 29 saves and the game's Third Star.

The D might have allowed the bigger San Jose forwards to get the puck deep and cycle but every shot was contested. There was one wild scramble where the puck was loose in front of Lundqvist but no Shark got there due to the solid backchecking by Rangers.

I've openly criticized him but Renney also deserves credit for matching the Blair Betts checking unit against Thornton because they victimized the Brandon Dubinsky line on their only tally of the day. Betts along with linemates Orr and Ryan Hollweg did a solid job against one of the league's best players limiting their chances.

Credit must also go out to Malik, who aside from his blown assignment on Cheechoo has played admirably the last couple of games with rookie Marc Staal still out with the flu. Big Bird has been more active in his end breaking up plays and moving the puck quickly. When he plays that way, he belongs in the lineup over Jason Strudwick. It remains to be seen how that will be handled.

It was Callahan who sealed the victory with an empty netter from Straka and recently re-signed defenseman Fedor Tyutin. The 22 year-old Rochester native finally has his game back and really is playing well. What this means is that Renney can't alter any of his three top lines. When Petr Prucha is healthy, the coach should consider sticking him with Betts and either scratching Hollweg or Orr. I actually believe Orr is the more responsible player now and wouldn't mind seeing Prucha on the left side with Hollweg sitting.

We'll have to wait and see. For now, the Rangers at least had a very good weekend. Now it's on the road to Buffalo Tuesday before a couple of days off with another tough test at Montreal next Friday.

Devs win in Ottawa heats up Eastern race: The race is only getting more interesting by the day where suddenly, the Rangers find themselves with six fewer points than conference leader Ottawa. The Sens' comeback attempt fell short against the surging Devils, who held on for a 3-2 win to pull ahead of the Pens for first and just two behind the struggling Ottawa club.

Arron Asham tallied twice while leading scorer Zach Parise notched the power play game-winner with Martin Brodeur stopping 37 shots to give his team a big win last night.

So, how does the division stack up exactly? The Devs lead the Pens by two but Pittsburgh with a win today against Buffalo could move back into a tie. The Rangers trail by four points but have less games (21) remaining. The Flyers are looking to snap a six-game skid seeking revenge for a 1-0 road shutout at the hands of rookie Carey Price and Les Habitants. One win would give them 67 points and move them to sixth due to two extra games left than the Rangers.

Meanwhile, the Isles also have won three straight and will try to keep it going when they host the Sharks tomorrow afternoon on President's Day. Their 61 points have them in 12th but they are just three behind eighth seeded Boston and four behind the seventh seeded Flyers.

Who wants it most? That's what we're going to find out over the next six and a half weeks. And don't forget the trade deadline is approaching.

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