Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rangers Prosp Into Christmas

Last week's humiliation feels like a long time ago. Perhaps the Rangers took it to heart. Since, they're a perfect four-for-four including tonight's big 4-1 home win over the Panthers, tying them for eighth in the East with 39 points. It allowed them to Prosp into Christmas feeling a lot better about themselves than seven days prior. Vinny Prospal snapped a 14-game goal drought, tallying twice and Chris Drury scored for the third time in four while also assisting on Marian Gaborik's highlight reel shorthanded goal as the Blueshirts got the last four- improving to 18-16-3 with smiles all around.

"These games before the break, you don’t want them to think it’s Christmas too early,said an almost smiling John Tortorella.I thought we played well. Everyone contributed. It was more of a complete game than we’ve had in a while.

Amazing what a few wins can do for a team's psyche. It was also vital to do it again on home ice. Amazingly, they'd gone a month having entered with the league's second worst home record (7-9-1). Predictably, the bitter 2-1 defeat to the Islanders was fresh in their memory banks and something many players admittedly emphasized. The No.1 Star of the game Henrik Lundqvist certainly didn't flinch when answering John Giannone's question after another stellar night, finishing with 33 saves. That's six consecutive games he's permitted two-or-less. Most notably, the emotional leader of the team has been unbelievable during the win streak, stopping 136 of 141 (.965 save percentage). Quite a statement from the affable Swede we critiqued earlier. The difference. Now, he's making momentum turning saves like a trio when the game was hanging in the balance with each club deadlocked at one.

He’s the most important player on our team,” praised The Big Ticket. “If he comes up with the big saves, it gives us confidence and gives us a boost. He gives us the chance to win every night.

The Panthers came out quickly getting nine of the first 13 shots, including Victor Oreskovic putting in the game's first goal just 4:09 in. Dominic Moore went wide on Mike Del Zotto and backhanded a low shot off Lundqvist which caromed out. But Michal Rozsival fanned on clearing, allowing Oreskovic to rebound it home. But the Rangers bounced back thanks to some superb work from Enver Lisin, whose hustle negated an icing. Eventually, he and Sean Avery helped setup an open Drury for a one-time blast past Tomas Vokoun to tie 2:13 later. A great response. By the end of the period, shots wound up Florida 10, Rangers 9.

With the game knotted, Lundqvist did his best work in the second turning aside all 15 Panther shots, including two sizzlers on Rotislav Olesz and a great kicksave on a dangerous Greg Campbell chance. While he was taking care of business in front of his own net, Prospal finally scored for the first time in 15 games. On a power play, he worked a give-and-go with Del Zotto getting the puck to Gaborik who was stopped point blank by Vokoun. However, the rebound was still there and a sneaky Ryan Callahan kicked the puck to Prospal for the putback, leading to him raising his arms and thanking the heavens in relief. Certainly a good sign because they need him to get going again. He'd been too quiet during the malaise. It would get even better for Vaclav later.

“It was great to see Vinny score a couple of goals,” the Great Gabby added of his linemate.
It’s just special every time you score two goals,” a pleased Prospal explained while looking forward to a snowy Christmas rather than Florida sunshine. “I’m not a guy who scores 40 every year. It feels great to finally come out of it, and not just score one, but two in a game like this.

Once again, the middle stanza was similar to the first with both clubs attacking and getting chances as they combined for 29 total shots (Fla-15, NYR-14). While the shot totals were high, encouraging for the Rangers was that they didn't make many glaring mistakes and gave Lundqvist a chance to see every one, including a sliding stop to rob a Panther on the doorstep. The D held up with John Tortorella opting to re-team Marc Staal with Dan Girardi, helping silence Florida's top line of Michael Frolik, Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton. The strategy paid off with the trio going a combined minus-six despite 14 of their club's 34 shots.

The Rangers came close to scoring near the second's conclusion before I headed out to a classic ice cream parlor for some mint chip and cookie dough. As I drove back, it was nice to discover that Prospal had increased the lead to two only 23 seconds into the third off some nice work behind the net by Brandon Dubinsky, who played another assertive game. That must continue post-Christmas when they host the Islanders at The Garden Saturday and beyond. Staal also got another reward with a secondary helper. He really has played much better and is starting to look like the shutdown guy who was so confidence in his second year.

As I got in with it still 3-1 thanks to some splendid PK work that held a lethal Florida man-advantage in check (0-4), I had some ice cream and then watched a great sequence started by Callahan and Drury. Their effort was exceptional. Forcing turnovers, a persistent Drury finally stripped the puck and looked ready to get a breakaway drawing a delayed penalty. With Callahan changing quickly, Gaborik flew off the bench and retrieved the puck, going wide before somehow finding a hole via a backhand for his league-leading 26th. A back breaking shorty that put it out of reach. How he scored from such an angle still baffles. If there's a video, we'll put it up. Here it is:

Great PK Effort Leads To A Great Gabby SHG

To their credit, Florida didn't quit but none of the nine they took bothered Lundqvist, who heard the more familiar, "Hen---rik, Hen---rik, Hen---rik" chants from the Garden Faithful. His 158th career victory allowed him to pass Dave Kerr for fifth winningest all-time on the franchise list.

The last four games we have been more physical, more aggressive. The puck is starting to bounce our way a little bit,” Lundqvist noted after giving fans a brief scare when Florida D Keith Ballard accidentally kneed him in the head. “I think I am playing really well, but the guys playing in front are playing really, really well. They are making really good decisions.
With the Isles coming in along with the Flyers before a New Year's Eve tilt in Raleigh, the coach knows how big it is to reestablish a home ice advantage.

"We are not going to get where we want to be if we don’t establish our game at home,” Tort accurately expressed. “And I thought we did it the right way tonight in our home building. We have quite a few home games coming up here, so hopefully this is a step in the right direction.”

Hopefully, that trend will continue.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Vinny Prospal, NYR (snapped 14-gm drought w/2 goals incl.PP GW, 4 SOG, 3-3 draws, +1 in 16:53)
2nd Star-Chris Drury, NYR (tying goal, assist, 3 SOG, 2 takeaways, 2 blocked shots, 11-12 draws, +2 in 19:15)

1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (33 saves incl.15/15 in 2nd, 136/141 stopped during win streak)

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