Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jokinen OT winner gives gritty Rangers win over Pens

If there were one word to describe the Rangers' hard fought 3-2 overtime win over the Pens in their final regular season match at Mellon Arena- something John Tortorella didn't give a damn about- it would be gritty.

For a struggling team which had only won two of their last 10 coming in last night, this was a welcome change. Considering the garbage golden boy Sidney Crosby and Matt Cooke pulled, it was easily one of the best wins of the season. Especially with both Marian Gaborik and Mike Del Zotto departing early due to lacerations shortening the bench to 16. Gaborik (6 shifts-4:02) tried to go after missing a game but it was too much. Del Zotto was cut in the ribs by Evgeni Malkin's skate and played just two shifts (1:20). He needed 50 stitches and likely is out for tomorrow's final game before the break at MSG against Tampa Bay, who fell today 5-4 to the Islanders. They're two points up. So, it amounts to a large game for a team that can't win at home. The Rangers are one of four teams to have a losing record (13-15-4) on home ice. Will a character building win in which they stood up to the hated Pens, finally snapping an eight-game losing streak to their rivals, be enough to follow suit tomorrow?

The playoffs have already started for us; we have to start winning,Henrik Lundqvist pointedly declared after turning aside 25 of 27 shots for just his second win in nine. “A big part of the game is to be focused. Whatever happens during the game, you can’t let that affect us—if it’s a goal or a guy can’t play for us, all the guys have to step up even more. We did that tonight.
For a change, tonight we were able to put together a 60-minute—more than a 60-minute—hockey game,” goalscorer Vinny Prospal noted after scoring for the fourth time in four to put his club ahead 2-1 in an outstanding second period. “And I think that was maybe the difference between the last few games and tonight’s game.
After a tenative first that saw them fall behind on Crosby's career best 40th of the season set up in the slot by Bill Guerin and Malkin, the Blueshirts controlled the second outscoring the mighty Pens 2-zip and outshooting them 13-6. It didn't take long to tie it with Chris Drury, who played like a captain all night, setting up Brandon Dubinsky in front with a no look backhand feed 88 seconds in. Olli Jokinen added a secondary helper on the great play by the oft-criticized Drury, who's played better lately. He was good the prior two contests playing much more active and getting chances. Maybe he finally has jump. Considering that he always plays hurt sacrificing by blocking shots for the team like he did last night, it's hard to say he doesn't care. The man's been snake bit not finishing plays like the one where he had a open side. But Brooks Orpik saved a goal.

With momentum, the Rangers continued to play well taking it to Pittsburgh who struggled in their end. If there's one area which could be an issue for the defending champs, it's defense. They can be forechecked and our team did a good job. Perhaps they do miss Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill more than first thought. Some superb work from Sean Avery, who played one of his spunkiest games, distracted the Pens and eventually led to Prospal putting the Blueshirts up. Winning puck battles in the corners and throwing his weight around, he also was near Brent Johnson's crease agitating Orpik who took a whack at the agitator. It should've been a penalty but the Avery Rules were in effect. After a glance at the refs, instead of letting it get to him, he kept playing during the shift. Pittsburgh came the other way and got a shot on Lundqvist, who repelled it to Matt Gilroy. He quickly worked the puck to Artem Anisimov, who on a two-on-one made a perfect feed to Prospal who went upstairs for his 13th at 9:44. A beauty that put them ahead.

That's when the game became more interesting. On the very next shift, a clean Drury takeout of Cooke who earlier this season blindsided Anisimov led to the instigator repeatedly challenging our captain who finally obliged landing a couple of rights before being taken down. Typically, Cooke made a bush league move continuing to hit a defenseless Drury.

"He kept saying it was a dirty play, and I was like, 'What, I'm not allowed to hit you?' " said Drury. "He asked me so many times to go, that I figured I might as well.

"The way we responded tells you about our preparation and focus. Considering who we were playing and who we didn't have playing for us, it was probably our grittiest game of the season."
Frequent target Michal Rozsival had seen enough coming to his aid, pushing Cooke away to earn a misconduct for being third man in. Exactly the kind of response that should've happened when Daniel Carcillo goaded Gaborik into dropping 'em while new Tinman Dan Girardi stood and watched. It earned the Rangers a power play which they did nothing with, looking lost minus Del Zotto and Gaborik. Girardi, who saw point duty on a second straight was dreadful, leading to a couple of Pens' shorthanded bids which Lundqvist denied. He's been a solid player here since the club brought him in as a free agent, pairing with Fedor Tyutin to success in our only decent run. While Girardi's had his moments, he's not consistent and hasn't developed. Last night, it was two glaring turnovers which led to both Crosby's goals, including the tying power play redirect of a Sergei Gonchar shot in the third. It's very hard to pick on a player when we still have Wade Redden and Rozsival, who's played better since Tort's December tirade following an awful Islander loss. However, Rozy's boosted his play and been more effective than Girardi, who's supposed to be one of our best. Granted. He's cheaper but that'll come to a halt this summer if they retain him. He's in line for about three million. Is he really worth it? That's why I'm a fan of moving him before the March 3 deadline. Now, they have to wait. If you could get a pick for him or package with Dubinsky, who's far from consistent for say a more talented player (i.e. Frolik, Versteeg, Benn), you do it. Many are split on Girardi but tend to overrate him. D is our one system strength. It's about time they found out what Bobby Sanguinetti, Mike Sauer and Heineken can do.

Back to the game and Crosby's antics. Not taking kindly to Dubinsky late in the second, the whiny Hart candidate gave a one-handed slash to our center's wrist. This after the a ref pushed Dubinsky away during the period's final shift. How can that be allowed?!?!?!?!?! Ridiculous. How overprotected can Cindy be? The chop to a place that's not protected could've resulted in a broken wrist. Of course, the league won't bother. Why would they? Double standards. Gotta love Dubi's response during an MSG interview with John Giannone:

Dubinsky calls Crosby baby

Though he'd tie it with No.41 thanks to a diagonal Girardi pass right to Gonchar (secondary assist, anyone?), Sid & Co. would come up short in OT thanks to a brilliant winning shot by Jokinen, who must step up with Gabby banged up. He beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a lethal wrister from the right circle through a Kris Letang screen 62 seconds in giving them their first extra session win of the season. The play wouldn't have been possible without a great defensive gem by Rozsival, who took a Pen off the puck behind the net and subtly fed Jokinen who did the rest for his 13th and second as a Ranger. Since the trade, he has five points in five games.
 "I used (Letang) as a screen and tried to go higher—tried to go high-glove,” the hero said after praising Rozsival. “Sometimes when the puck doesn’t go where you want it to go, it goes in.
I think he’s been playing OK for us but… OK isn’t good enough because we’re not winning,” Tortorella assessed. “So it’s a big play by him… Hopefully it will give him some confidence. You always want to be accepted when you come to a new group, and when you score an overtime game winner that’s a big avenue for him as far a joining in with the team.
Now, they'll aim for two in a row and a chance to go into the break on a high. They know what's at stake and say the right things. We'll see if they're up to the challenge.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Olli Jokinen, NYR (OT winner 1:02 in, game high 7 SOG, 2 blocked shots, hit, +2 in 20:50)
2nd Star-Michal Rozsival, NYR (assist, 10 PIM, 5 SOG, 3 blocked shots, 2 hits in 21:31)
1st Star-Chris Drury, NYR (assist, fight, 2 SOG, 2 hits, blocked shot, +1 in 18:22)

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