Friday, February 29, 2008

Drury, Rangers continue to roll

Chris Drury is known as Mr. Clutch. Lately, the first-year Ranger has been exactly that notching his club-leading sixth game-winner to help lift the resurgent Original Six club to its third consecutive win by a count of 4-2 over the Hurricanes Thursday night at the RBC Center.

With his team out in front by two on the strength of first period tallies courtesy of red hot rookie Brandon Dubinsky and the sizzling Sean Avery, the 31 year-old Trumbull Connecticut native continued his torrid play by picking up the loose change of a Marc Staal shot and depositing it past a frustrated Cam Ward to make it 3-0 just 2:14 into the second.

At that juncture, the Blueshirts were dominating their shorthanded opponents, taking full advantage of a team without captain Rod Brind'Amour, Justin Williams along with top defender Tim Gleason. Shots at one point were 22-7 New York.

However, the Canes got back in it thanks to left wing Erik Cole's first of two on the night 5:25 later. Jaromir Jagr lost an edge in the defensive zone failing to clear the puck. Cole was the beneficiary taking a Bret Hedican pass and firing a tricky shot which looked to deflect past Henrik Lundqvist to get his team back in the contest.

Carolina carried that momentum forward as they started to dictate the play with their aggressive cycle forcing Lundqvist to make some tough saves with traffic in front. Early in the third, the Rangers ran into penalty trouble. A dubious high stick on Marc Staal (really Ranger newcomer Christian Backman) which drew blood led to Cole's second of the night.

It came via the odd variety again. After getting past Dan Girardi, Cole was backchecked by Blair Betts, who managed to get a piece of the puck but the kid from Oswego, New York stuck with it and got his stick on it to push it past Lundqvist for his 17th to cut it to one with 15:06 remaining.

Would the Rangers have another Montreal-esque meltdown? It wasn't a good start for Backman who went to the box for holding giving Carolina another man-advantage. However, thanks to some splendid penalty killing from Drury, Brendan Shanahan, the resurgent Marek Malik and a steadier Michal Rozsival, they managed to keep the Canes at bay.

Not long after the Carolina PP expired, a huge goal by Shanahan allowed his teammates to breathe easier. Off a pair of nice passes from Scott Gomez and improving freshman Nigel Dawes, the 39 year-old veteran finisher knew exactly what to do with a glorious chance on a three-on-two from 15 feet out. Top shelf. Or as legendary Sabres' play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret likes to say, "Where Mama hides the cookies!"

Shanny's 21st restored order at 7:28 allowing his team to survive a Carolina onslaught (13-2 SOG). He remained tied with Drury for the team lead in goals.

Notes: Dawes notched two helpers to make it three consecutive games with at least a point going 2-2-4. ... Lundqvist was strong finishing with 26 saves to win his 29th of the season. One more victory would make it three straight seasons of at least 30-or-more. ... Drury extended his point streak to seven (4-4-8). Since a Jan.31 4-0 shutout win over the Flyers, he's notched nine goals and six assists for 15 points with a plus-eight rating. ... With his 11th goal, Avery now has eight points (6-2-8) in his last seven contests with a plus-seven rating along with 19 penalty minutes. ... Phoenix pickup Fredrik Sjostrom debuted on the fourth line logging 11:27 of ice-time registering one shot. Petr Prucha was a healthy scratch.

Some quick thoughts:

-The lines all look really good right now. So, I wonder when Prucha will get his opportunity. He's coming back from an injury. I'd like to see Tom Renney fit him in on the fourth line with Sjostrom and Betts and see how it looks to have actual guys who can skate and finish around the net.

-Backman had a night to forget twice bringing his stick high at an attacking Cane. He also was turnover prone and looked very tight. Hopefully, he'll get adjusted to a new system.

-Lundqvist did give up two odd goals but he really played well in this one and was the difference. Especially when the Canes turned it up.

-Sergei Samsonov looked like a different player. It's no doubt that the Russian who once won the Calder has been revitalized since the Canes took him off the Hawks' hands. But now, he's back to being very dangerous. He had all sorts of chances and if not for Lundqvist, easily could've had a couple of goals.

-The officiating was very shaky as they missed a few blatant infractions on the Canes, who resorted to dirty late hits including one from new pickup Tuomo Ruutu and rookie D Tim Conboy. Responding to a cheap hit which should've been a penalty, Ryan Callahan took on Conboy losing a bout. I liked the character he showed. These rookies will do that.

-Dubinsky has four goals and four helpers totaling eight points and 24 PIM in the last six games since being moved to Jagr's line. Speaking of No.68, he notched an assist in the win.

-Since returning to the blueline, Malik's 1-2-3 with a plus-five rating in five games. He really looks like a different player. Instead of sitting back, he's being much more aggressive and making quicker reads. He's even playing physical which is nice to see.

-With the Bruins, Flyers and Islanders all winning, the Rangers remained seventh in the conference. Now comes a big stretch against the Flyers on Sunday before a pivotal home-and-home versus the Isles with Boston and Buffalo also on the horizon.

Just gotta keep the formula simple and keep winning.

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