Monday, March 10, 2008

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Battle of New York


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Rangers v. Islanders right now on MSG

End of the game - Avery added an empty net goal to make it 4-1 Rangers. Solid defensive game, Lundqvist came up big when he had to and the offense chipped in. The Rangers haven't lost in regulation in 11 straight now. Lundqvist also got his 30th win of the season. Congrats. Enjoy the rest of the night.

9:12 - Witt just went to the bench shaken up. He's had a barking right knee, so it could be something with that. This might be some kind of record, but in the two games this week, the Rangers and Islanders have fought each other zero times. I guess they needed DiPietro out there to start one of those. Al Montoya is down in the desert now, so maybe all will be calm.

9:05 - Another great shift by the top line for the Rangers. Avery, Jagr and Dubinsky all had chances. Blair Betts before that had a solid shift with a few hits. The Rangers have shutdown the Isle's offense so far this period as well, as they only have one shot on net.

8:50 - Much better start to the third for the Rangers. Marc Staal threw the puck at the net on the powerplay, Gomez deflected and it went in past Dubie. (I'm real tired of his name) It was all set up by Dawes' hussle. Dubie just robbed Jagr while Avery and Brendan Witt exchange words again. 3-1 Rangers.

8:31 - Wow. What a bad period by the Rangers. The Islanders came out with much more life. The best part of the Rangers' game was the penalty kill. They were outshot 13-3 in the period and rarely had offensive pressure. They will begin the third period on the power play off of a hard work play by Freddie Sjorstrum. He has otherwise been a little shaky this game. Dawes was robbed at the buzzer, as was Gomez. Need a better third period.

8:16 - Sean Berghenheim just managed to have a shot deflect off of Malik and Roszival and then past Lundqvist. 2-1 Rangers. Why don't the Rangers ever score those kind of goals. Big save by Lundqvist. All this after a beautiful penalty kill. Islanders are the better team this period.

8:09 - Malik's defense partner put the puck into the crowd in the defensive zone and took a delay of game penalty. Two man advantage for the Fishsticks for 51 seconds. Good penalty kill thus far for the Rangers.

8:05 - The pace didn't slow from period one to period two. A couple of opportunities for both teams leads to a holding penalty on the Blueshirts. Malik was the culprit.

7:39 - Jagr just rang one off the post. Then, a solid play by Malik (who?) led to a hooking penalty on the Islanders. One the powerplay, Dawes had a great opportunity and Chris Drury put one into the sprawling Dubielewicz. Anyone else wanna jump off the "I hate Marek Malik bandwagon with me?" He's starting to win me over again. 2-0 going into the break.

7:28 - Pretty goal just scored by Avery. Brandon Dubinsky dug the puck out along the boards, dropped it to Marek Malik, who fed Avery and Avery had a pretty deflection past Dubieleweicz. 2-0 Rangers.

7:22 - If you aren't watching this game, you are missing out. A strong shift by the Rangers' top line was countered by an even stronger shift by the Islanders' top line. Henrik Lundqvist had to make some good saves. Then Jaromir Jagr set up Sean Avery, who hit the post with the net wide open. Shanahan just took one of those weak hooking or slashing penalties. A tap on the stick and he gets called.

The Rangers and Islanders have started the second of the home and home this week, and already the Rangers are off to a 1-0 lead. Nigel Dawes fed Brendan Shanahan on a delayed penalty and Shanny went on a breakaway on Wade Dubieleweicz. The pace is a little faster than Tuesday's game, but it isn't very physical, yet. I'll be here updating as we go along.

Same lineups as Tuesday for both teams. Rick DiPietro is back with the team, but not in net. Petr Prucha, Ryan Hollweg and Jason Strudwick are the healthy scratches.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Rangers drop one to Isles in shootout.

In a game that was mostly dominated by the New York Rangers, the other New York team took away the two points. Derek's recap covers the stats, I'll provide some analysis from my point of view.

- Henrik Lundqvist spent the better part of a month at the beginning of the season bailing the poor Ranger offense out. When the offense was scoring one or two goals a game, Lundqvist stood on his head. Now he has some solid offense behind him (three goals yesterday, but the Rangers in the four goal range recently) and Hank is in a slump. Is that all it is? A slump? Let's hope so. The Rangers threw some serious money at him a month or so ago and it would a shame to have him turn into another Mike Dunham. Maybe he needs to be spelled a little more. Maybe he can't handle the 65-70 game schedule that Martin Broudeur handles year in and year out. Stephen Valiquette has proven to be a solid backup, maybe he needs to start a few more games. No matter what though, March is a month of Eastern Conference opponents for the Blueshirts. Lundqvist needs to get his act together.

- A lot of criticism on Tom Renney for using Michal Rozsival in the shootout last night. It wasn't the 15th round, but the fifth. Renney hadn't yet put out players such as Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan, Jaromir Jagr, Sean Avery or the secret weapon, Marek Malik. I'll be joining that group of critics, because to me, it just doesn't make sense. Maybe Renney thought that a different approach would throw Wade Dubielewicz off, or that Roszival saw something on the bench that he could try. Maybe Roszy's morale was dipped because of some shakey play recently (he played a good game yesterday, though) and wanted to try and boost it with a shootout goal. Maybe everyone on the bench went into an extreme sneezing fit and couldn't stop long enough to take a shot. Who knows? All that I know is that it was a poor choice. Is there any guarantee that one of the other guys on the bench would have scored? Absolutely not. I do think they had a better chance though.

- In a rivalry game of this calibre, I feel that the Rangers missed some of the energy that Petr Prucha and Ryan Hollweg bring to each and every game. Fredrik Sjorstrum was quiet, almost non-existent. With few penalties, Blair Betts was unnoticeable as well. Colton Orr threw some good hits, and got the crowd going. I have always been a fan of having a fourth line as a checking line. Shut down the opposing line for 45 seconds, throw some hits, have a scrap and forecheck hard. The Hollweg, Betts, Orr line was accomplishing that. Sjorstrum brings an element of scoring that a third line needs. With Ryan Callahan playing like a maniac recently, and Prucha waiting in the wings to get back in the lineup, I feel that you don't necessarily need Sjorstrum.

- Christian Backman started shaky again, but finished alright last night, and didn't even take a penalty. Not one.

- On the Avery front. His agent said that he hopes to continue talks with Glen Sather as soon as the season ends. If Avery continues to play the kind of hockey that he's playing with Jagr now, and if Jagr is resigned, I don't see Sather passing on the opportunity to keep the chemistry that the top line has. They are productive as a unit, and Avery has been semi-successful with every combination that he has played with this season.

I kind of expect a lineup change on Thursday. Callahan and Nigel Dawes are playing out-of-their mind hockey right now, and will be safe. Maybe Prucha or Hollweg gets in on the fourth line. The defense will remain the same most likely, though. Renney might be tempted to keep everything the same, as the Rangers have come away with points in 11 straight games, their best run since 1995-96. We'll see what happens. I'll check in before tomorrow's rematch.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dubi and Tambellini give Isles upper hand

On a night where the Islanders were without All-Star netminder Rick DiPietro, the more desperate team from Nassau County came into the Garden and earned a 4-3 shootout victory over the Rangers.

They can credit backup Wade Dubielewicz and rookie Jeff Tambellini as both proved to be the difference between one point and the big two Ted Nolan's club badly needed to stay afloat in the Eastern playoff race. With the Sabres posting a 5-2 win over the eighth seeded Flyers, it allowed the Isles to pull within three of the final spot. Buffalo has 73 points and trails Philly by one.

Despite being largely outplayed, it was the Islanders who built leads of 1-0 and 3-1 courtesy of goals off the sticks off Blake Comeau, Sean Bergenheim and Trent Hunter. Somehow, the Blueshirts didn't score in the game's first five minutes when they swarmed Dubielewicz' net but fired either into the capable backup or wide.

Instead, they came out of the first trailing by a goal which Comeau banked off a Ranger defenseman. The Isles led despite being outshot 12-6. Usually, when you don't convert your opportunities in rivalry games such as these, it comes back to bite you. Let's just say that was the case as the Rangers were forced to play catch up almost the entire night.

That's because Henrik "Seven Million" Lundqvist played like he had lead up his ass. He stunk most of this game and was the only reason his team trailed by two goals in the second after a Nigel Dawes power play tally knotted it.

So, how long did it take for the Islanders to reclaim the lead? Just 41 seconds later when a Bergenheim wrister from 40 feet beat the just turned 26 year-old overpaid No.1 goalie who came up about as small as possible when DiPietro didn't play due to the death of his grandmother. Unlike a few intoxicated angry Ranger fans at tonight's game, condolences go out to Rick and his family.

If Bergenheim's eighth wasn't enough to draw fans' ire, then the next softie Lundqvist managed to give up really stung. Let's be brutally honest here. King Henrik is the worst puckhandling goalie I've ever seen. He makes Mike Richter look like Martin Brodeur. He should never ever be allowed to play the puck because he freezes up and becomes a detriment.

That's exactly how the Isles got their third goal two minutes later thanks to a dreadful giveaway. Even worse was the routine Hunter stinker Lundqvist allowed to sneak through. Garbage.

This is supposed to be the league's highest paid goalie? Can anyone explain how our clueless GM somehow bumped Lundqvist from $4.5 million to $7 million on average? What did he do to merit it? He's won one freaking series. Is he one of the better netminders in the league? Without question. But I never was a fan of handing out a longterm deal such as that and such a hefty raise which will hurt the team's cap space.

To their credit, the Rangers rallied thanks to Chris Drury's 22nd less than two minutes later. A shorthanded goal by resurgent rookie Ryan Callahan off some hard work by Scott Gomez got it tied with 14:13 remaining in regulation.

The game would wind up in a shootout only because a routine Ruslan Fedotenko wrister drew the far iron with our franchise goalie napping. Maybe he was daydreaming about all the millions of dollars and slutty models he'll conquer afterwards. I know. I really shouldn't but I've had enough of Lundqvist losing concentration at key moments this season. It really makes you wonder what's going on in that head.

You want a real goalie? Watch Brodeur with a no-name defense stand on his head most nights.

Lundqvist got off to a great start this season but has been hot and cold ever since December. I'm tired of the excuses.

Oh. And he also blew the skills competition when our coach finally bought a clue and stuck Dawes out there. Somehow, he got no OT shifts. The same amount as Callahan. Can anyone explain that? Almost like asking what Renney was thinking with eight seconds to go in regulation and an offensive zone draw and he sticks out the fourth line. Are you freaking kidding?!?!?!?!?! Why not use a timeout there and setup a play. Stick Drury out there along with your best forwards and go for the kill.

Not this coach. Btw...this is why I really can't see this team winning a Cup. Because of these kind of questionable decisions. You want to be one of the best. How about playing to win for a change?

The Isles do it. You want to know why? Cause they have no choice. They got a lot better scoring chances in the final five minutes before the OT.

How about the selection of Michal Rozsival as the fifth shooter? Huh? Where's Jaromir Jagr or Drury or Callahan? Any of them would've been better.

Truthfully, the hungrier team won tonight. They had the better goalie. Not the one who made just 15 saves on 18 shots and allowed Tambellini to beat him for the winner after Bill Guerin's tying one snuck through in Round Two.

Dubielewicz stole this game finishing with 27 stops. He did it to the Rangers when his team had to win last year and had that miraculous final week to sneak in.

He was better than Lundqvist. How sad.

You could ask a lot of questions based on tonight's game. And no. I don't give one iota about the brownie point because it's a garbage point. Especially when you lose to a shorthanded rival who really has no business being out on the same sheet of ice.

Given how the Rangers played, the goalie was to blame. And btw...I'm with Lenny on Christian Backman. He's softer than a Hostess Twinkie. Get this guy out. Wow. Is he brutal.

Three Stars:

3rd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (SHG-7th goal overall)
2nd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (let in two bad Isles goals and looked lost)
1st Star-Wade Dubielewicz, NYI (27 saves plus 5 of 6 in shootout)

Same lineup for the Rangers tonight

The Rangers and Islanders faceoff in seconds, with the Rangers fielding the same lineup as Sunday afternoon. Ryan Hollweg, Petr Prucha and Jason Strudwick will be the healthy scratches.

No Rick DiPietro tonight, as he's out due to personal reasons.

I'm extremely busy tonight, so no live blogging. Enjoy the game and I'll be back tomorrow.

Ovechkin hits 50 in style

There are nights where you are lucky to be a sportsfan. For our sport, this was one of those special nights courtesy of Washington Capital sniper Alexander Ovechkin.

The 22 year-old league leading finisher entered yesterday's home contest against Boston needing one goal to reach the 50-goal mark for the second time in his already brilliant career. By the end of the first period, he already had a hat trick to become the third Washington Cap to reach 50 for a season joining Peter Bondra and Dennis Maruk.

It capped a terrific night for AO and teammates as they stormed the Bruins 10-2 putting up a touchdown in the opening stanza. After former Canuck Matt Cooke got the scoring started, Ovechkin tallied twice only 50 seconds apart to put his team up a field goal.

The electrifying Russian completed the first period trick when he skated in front and buried an Alexander Semin centering feed past poor Boston No.1 goalie Tim Thomas.

"Today, everything just went to the net,” a relieved Ovechkin explained to the AP of snapping a funk where he had only one goal in the last eight. “You are going to score (in) lots of games, and some you (won’t). I always tell myself not to think about goals and to just play how I can.”

It wouldn't get much better for the sixth ranked B's, who saw their six-game win streak end in humiliating fashion. They were outscored 4-2 in the final 40 minutes with Ovechkin adding two assists for a five-point night while rookie pivot Nicklas Backstrom notched a goal and three helpers.

For Ovechkin and teammates, the big game came just in time and allowed them to cut idle Southeast Division leader Carolina's lead to three with 15 games remaining (one more than the Canes).

“Just wait, we have lots of games left, and one game can mean nothing,” he pointed out . “We just have to continue to do what we did today, and try to play the same way on Wednesday.”

Amazingly, only three Caps didn't register a point including deadline pickup Sergei Fedorov, who somehow finished minus-one. Ovechkin's big night allowed him to pass fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin for the NHL scoring lead. He now leads the league with 90 points (52-38-90) while Malkin has 88 (37-51-88).

Monday, March 3, 2008

Big win for the Blueshirts and Monday afternoon update

As a Ranger fan, it pains me to see any starting goalie get pulled early in a game. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but you have to admit, yesterday's game was an extremely entertaining game. Derek has a great wrap up below, so I won't go into too much detail. I'll just throw out some quick hits:

- Freddie Sjorstrum has looked great in his first two games as a Ranger. It pains me that Ryan Hollweg is the odd man out, but he certainly brings a hardworking, productive element to the fourth line.

- Christain Backman earned himself some boo-birds in yesterday's game after taking two more penalties, but then got a reprieve when he scored later on. I agree that the first penalty was a bit of nonsense, and the second one was also a little questionable, but he has not impressed so far. He's not a physical player, so maybe he's trying too hard to impress his new team. He has shown brief glipses of being able to step up an make good offensive plays, so maybe he builds on the second half of last game and starts to win over the New York crowd and critics.

- Sean Avery broke off contract talks with the Rangers today, citing that they were too far apart monetarily. In the beginning of the season, Avery was asking for $3 million a year, which was steep. With his resurgent play of late, and his newfound chemistry with Jaromir Jagr and Brandon Dubinsky, along with the edge and aggitation that he brings to the table for the Rangers, I don't see a deal not getting done. Glen Sather would be stupid to let him walk and join another team, especially one in the Eastern Conference. $2.5-$3 million seems reasonable to me to resign him for three or four years. With Marek Malik, Paul Mara, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Michal Rozsival and Brendan Shanahan coming off the books after this season, there's money to spend.

The Rangers are back in action tomorrow in the first half of a home and home series against the Islanders. Should be fun, and I might step in for some live blogging for one or both of the games as well. I'll update again before tomorrow's game.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rangers take fourth straight via shootout

Not surprisingly, the big Atlantic match-up between the Rangers and Flyers needed extra time to decide who would get the two points. That it required a shootout also wasn't very startling as neither team could get the kind of opportunity necessary to win it in OT.

Courtesy of shootout tallies from Brendan Shanahan and rookie Nigel Dawes, the Blueshirts prevailed 2-0 in the skills competition to take the game 5-4- notching their fourth win in a row and improving to 7-0-2 in the last nine.

Backup goalie Stephen Valiquette came on in relief of Henrik Lundqvist and was sharp repelling 17 of 18 Flyer shots to improve to 3-0 against them this season. In his previous couple of wins, he permitted zilch. Today, the Flyers' best forward on the day Jeff Carter solved him by chipping a backhand on the doorstep for his second of the day (23rd overall) with 8:11 remaining in regulation.

The Rangers outshot the Flyers 3-2 in a closely fought overtime sending the crucial contest to the shootout. It wouldn't take long to decide. Though Martin Biron was razor sharp in relief of an ineffective Antero Niittymaki stopping all 21 Ranger shots he saw, the same couldn't be said for the skills comp.

Last time it was Shanahan and Chris Drury who victimized the former Buffalo netminder in Philly. This time around, the 39 year-old Shanny again beat him by patiently waiting before ripping one top shelf past Biron's glove.

Flyer defenseman Kimmo Timonen's forehand deke try was poked away by a diving Valiquette. Then Tom Renney opted for Dawes, who was previously 0-for-1 in an eventual SO win over the Devils. The improving 23 year-old Manitoban didn't disappoint faking before tucking a backhand through Biron's five-hole to give the Rangers a commanding 2-0 lead.

Carter had been money all day but this time, his shot rang off the post and stayed out allowing the Rangers to come out on the ice and congratulate Valiquette.

The win temporarily pulled the team within four of division leader New Jersey. If the Pens win against the Thrashers, they'll have 81 points and move out in front. They were leading 2-1 at last check in the second.

Three Stars:

3rd Star-Stephen Valiquette, NYR (17 saves in relief)
2nd Star-Brendan Shanahan, NYR (assist, shootout winner)
1st Star- Jeff Carter, Phi (2 goals in 23:10 TOI)

Carter draws Flyers even

Jeff Carter remains red hot as he got his second of the contest by getting to a rebound and backhanding it out of mid-air past Valiquette to tie it at four.

It was off another four-on-four. Maybe the Rangers should be worried as another key one is coming up because Avery took a dive to draw a penalty.

There's four and a half left in regulation.

Two periods complete

Things kind of settled down. The Rangers got the only goal of the second from Backman. Valiquette made a couple of timely stops including getting across to stop Daniel Briere. He's been sharp but the Flyers also missed the net with high shots a few times.

The Rangers take a 4-3 lead into the third with a pivotal power play to start with. They'll have the full two minutes to work with thanks to some hard work by the Drury line. Look for the Flyers to take some chances shorthanded. They have good SH players even without injured top star Mike Richards. Carter made one happen in yesterday's road win over the Islanders. It was later credited to Mike Knuble. Though I can't see how.

It should be an interesting third.

Here are the numbers for Lundqvist and Niittymaki:

Lundqvist- 8 shots, 5 saves
Niittymaki- 14 shots, 10 saves

Backman nets 1st as Ranger, Flyers make change too

Maybe Backman heard me as well as he just notched his first as a Ranger off a very nice setup by Brendan Shanahan converting a four-on-three rush by wristing one past Niittymaki.

Apparently, John Stevens had seen enough of his starter as well and followed Renney's idea by replacing Niitty with Martin Biron. So, it's now a battle of back-ups at the Garden in this big Atlantic match-up.

Colton Orr just battled Jesse Boulerice to a draw. This was a really good scrap as both traded rights and landed. What an entertaining game so far.

What else will happen?

Valiquette in goal to start 2nd

Apparently, Tom Renney read my mind and decided to make a change in net to start the second replacing Lundqvist with Valiquette.

We'll see if the change sparks the Blueshirts.

Shootout taking place at Garden

Apparently, the two teams forgot to bring their defense and goaltending as six total goals were scored in the first period at the Garden.

Vaclav Prospal got his first as a Flyer just over a minute in but Marty Straka banked one off the post and in to tie it. Braydon Coburn put home a rebound for a power play tally to give the Flyers another lead only to see deadline pickup Fredrik Sjostrom notch his first as a Ranger.

Paging Doc Emrick. It's Fredrik! Not Patrick. Sjostrom's goal came in transition as he hustled to the front and got three cracks before getting a goal for the fourth line. Nice to see some hard work pay off.

Ryan Callahan continued his turnaround taking a Straka feed and beating Antero Niittymaki with a quick one-timer while uncovered in front. Great play by Straka but it was Marek Malik who made the defensive play which started it.

If only Malik and partner Michal Rozsival didn't make a poor read for the third Philly goal. Rozy made a bad mistake stepping up during a four-on-four which allowed Jeff Carter to get a step on Malik and flip a soft backhand past a sleeping Henrik Lundqvist. Apparently, he forgot to set his alarm clock. Maybe they should've started Stephen Valiquette. He owns the Flyers with consecutive shutouts (both in Philly).

Also, Christian Backman again has looked awful taking two more undisciplined penalties. He better adjust soon or that trade's a dud.

Second period coming soon after this Sean Avery feature, who's enjoying his Broadway stay on and off the ice. With him playing his best hockey of his career, how much money will he get this summer? Maybe it's better not to think about that one if you're a Ranger supporter.

Important game for the Blueshirts today

The Rangers take on the Flyers in about 20 minutes in an all important game. Philly sits one point behind the Rangers in eighth place. The Rangers are two points behind the Bruins for sixth place, and trail the Devils by only six points for first in the division. With 13 games remaining against the Atlantic Division, these points are extremely important.

Henrik Lundqvist will be in net for the Rangers. Colton Orr is back in the lineup as expected, and to make room for him, it is Ryan Hollweg sitting out. Fredrik Sjorstrum will again skate on the fourth line with Blair Betts and Orr. The remaining lines and defensive combinations remain the same, as Petr Prucha and Jason Strudwick are also both scratched.

Good to see the game on NBC again, but I prefer the voices of Sam Rosen and Joe Michelleti to Doc Emerick and Eddie Olzchek. Just personal preference. Enjoy the game, I'll recap later.

Les Habitants edge Devils to take over East lead

All season long, the Canadiens have been proving critics like myself wrong. That didn't change one iota last night where they used a Andrei Kostistyn power play tally with 5:43 left to get past the Devils 2-1 up in Montreal, taking over first in the Eastern Conference.

The difference was the lethal No.1 ranked Habs' power play which connected twice in six opportunities while the Devs took a collar for a second consecutive night to drop their third straight. After picking up points in nine straight, they're 0-2-1 in their last three and haven't been finding the back of the net with any regularity. Something which top netminder Marty Brodeur eluded to afterwards:

“They didn’t give us much, we barely had three or four really good scoring
chances on [Carey] Price. We’re just having problems scoring goals and creating
chances of late, and it was the same thing tonight."

It was also the second game in a row his team permitted two power play goals against. Something which can't become a common occurrence if the Devs are to come out on top down the stretch.

Rookie goalie Carey Price outdueled Brodeur in net finishing with 31 saves. The well spoken 35 year-old Montreal native turned aside 23 of 25 but just didn't get much support in dropping to 34-14-5 for his brilliant career against the hometown Les Habitants.

The Devs outshot the Habs 13-8 in the opening stanza but the contest remained scoreless until Montreal double threat Mark Streit got to a loose puck in front steering one home on the backhand past Brodeur for his 12th 6:11 into the second. Montreal captain Saku Koivu and leading scorer Alex Kovalev notched assists.

But New Jersey drew even 7:26 later thanks to resurgent sniper Brian Gionta, who got to a loose rebound in front and stuffed one into an open side for his 18th (5th in last 10). Defensemen Mike Mottau and Colin White added helpers.

Then it would be the goalies who stood tall to keep the contest knotted. First, a sprawling Price robbed Patrik Elias on a one-timer which was labeled. Then Brodeur kicked out the right pad to deny Kovalev's 35-foot right wing wrister late in the second. He also thwarted checking center Maxim Lapierre's pointblank rebound early in the final stanza. Another big glove save from in close kept the Habs off the board with less than eight minutes left.

However, the Canadiens would finally go back in front thanks to some nice passing down low. During a five-on-four man-advantage which Chris Higgins just kept on-side, Tomas Plekanec was setup in front but missed. A hustling Andrei Kostistyn got to the loose puck behind the net and beat Brodeur with a wraparound for the deciding tally. It was his 20th of the season.

The Devils did generate a couple of chances in the final five minutes but Price stood tall denying Jamie Langenbrunner's rebound try from in close. He also got a glove on a Karel Rachunek blast to preserve the win- pushing the no longer surprising Canadiens a point ahead of both NJ and Ottawa (5-4 winners over the Pens) for tops in the conference.

"It is a pleasant surprise for us and for a lot of people,” a pleased Koivu pointed out afterwards.
“There were some question marks for this team because of the young players
coming from the minors, but those guys have done an excellent job coming in here
and wanting a big role, not being happy just to be in the lineup.”

The loss was another opportunity lost by the Devils to increase their division lead with the Pens losing despite three more points from NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin.

With the Flyers going into Long Island and posting a 4-1 win thanks in large part to a crushing shorthanded goal by Jeff Carter, suddenly the Atlanta is extremely tight. Seven total points separates the first place Devs from fourth place Philly which makes today's early 12:30 matinee at the Rangers even larger. Especially with both teams making up their extra game.

Essentially, the winner will pick up a couple of points and get even closer to the idle Devs. Meanwhile, the second place Pens could pull ahead with a home win over the Thrashers.

Both the Rangers and Flyers are aiming for their fourth straight wins. So it should be quite a battle at the Garden in what's an NBC game.

As for the Islanders, they really hurt themselves by falling to the Flyers because a regulation win would've put them in a three-way tie with Philly and Buffalo for the eighth spot. Instead, they're four behind the suddenly resurgent Flyers and trail the Sabres by a couple of points which makes the upcoming home-and-home against the rival Rangers huge. It could possibly make or break their season.

There's a lot more puck today. So I should be around to update everything accordingly.

Enjoy the games along with what's a fun and unpredictable playoff race.

The Puck Stops Here


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