Monday, March 8, 2010

Kaleta rules at MSG again

Patrick Kaleta has nine goals. Over thirty-three percent have come at MSG. Both Sabre wins at the expense of the Rangers. This is what happens when you have a soft team. Pests like Kaleta burn you like in last night's 2-1 overtime loss, celebrating all over our ice as if it were a Game Seven of the Conference Final.

I don’t know, but I like it,” he said. “Some buildings you feel better than others.

On a day highlighted by over 100 protesters across the street praying that Glen Sather gets fired (he's not), reality sunk in. That this poorly constructed roster even still has a chance to qualify for a fifth consecutive postseason speaks to how pathetic the race for the final two Eastern spots are. At least the Habs showed guts fighting back from three down to stun Anaheim last night, steering a point ahead of the B's into seventh three points clear of the Rangers. Boston's 2-1 loss to the Pens that's better known for the latest cheapshot by Matt Cooke kept them at 69 points down to eighth. Two clear of us and three better than Atlanta, who were stormed by the Canes 4-zip.

With hobbled Marian Gaborik playing a second straight after convincing John Tortorella to keep him in following an ineffective game in a shutout defeat to the Caps, the Rangers scored once finally breaking the latest 100-plus minute drought (149:30) to earn a point. How many long droughts is that? By our count, it's at least three (probably four). And we don't have Ally or Higgs to kick around anymore. At least Brandon Dubinsky found a way to score his career best 16th with 83 seconds left on a power play.  Ironically, I bought a No.17 Dubi tee downstairs.

For a game that was a total bore the first 50 minutes, it did pick up late. The goalie match-up between USA hero Ryan Miller and Swede Henrik Lundqvist materialized with both razor sharp throughout. After two periods in which the teams combined for 43 shots, it remained scoreless. While each took turns making saves, both defenses (seri-ous-ly) played well making life difficult. The tight checking affair lacked energy. A fight would've helped.

Following a lackluster second in which they only mustered half a dozen shots, the Blueshirts peppered Miller with 14 in the third. To their credit, many were high quality forcing the Buffalo netminder to make a few sprawling stops from in tight. That included some close calls with the inept hosts unable to score into an open net. A theme all season... Even when it looked like Dubinsky had scored after a great play by Chris Drury, who played superbly against his ex-team- the apparent goal was waived off due to an offside nobody heard. True enough, I was headed back to our seats when I caught it along with a fan giving it to the Buffalo contingent screaming, "Miller Time," at them.

The way everyone celebrated, I figured we led. But when I got back to my seat, they were discussing how it would probably wind up a "double shutout." Just as that was uttered, the Sabres scored. Friday hero Adam Mair was allowed to steer home a Derek Roy pass from in front breaking the scoreless tie with 5:57 left. Thomas Vanek added a secondary assist. At that predictable moment, it seemed our team was destined to be blanked again. At least by arguably the best goalie who emulated his Olympic MVP performance. Miller also got help from the post when Sean Avery had him beat. Instead, it remained 1-0 until a flying Ryan Callahan got a step on Jochen Hecht forcing him to take a penalty. At the play's conclusion, a diving Miller stoned Cally.

It was left to the power play. After plenty of passes that had the crowd antsy, Mike Del Zotto's low shot rebounded out to Dubinsky, who got leveled by a Sabre yet still managed to get his stick on it for the equalizer with 1:23 remaining. We were already standing anticipating the worst. It was nice to see them come through. Especially Dubi, who had a forgettable game in D.C. Since being shifted to the wing, the third-year forward is playing with more edge. For a guy who does drive us nuts, the 23 year-old former '06 second round pick is putting together a nice year. Despite missing 13 games, his 16 goals are a career high suddenly having him in line for 20. Something I always believed he was capable of. He's finishing more with goals in three of four and four of the last six. If they do keep him, Dubinsky must remain on the wing where he can use his size and speed. Let him work with Adam Graves, who knows a thing or two about scoring garbage goals.

In OT, both teams went for it. Lundqvist denied Tim Connolly twice off the faceoff. The Rangers' chance must've deflected wide because they weren't credited with a shot while Buffalo had five. Just the way each club played, you could tell it was going to end the proper way. Finally, off a mad scramble Kaleta came from behind the net and stuffed the puck past Lundqvist before doing his theatrics as teammates mobbed him. The decider came at 2:22 from Steve Montador and Craig Rivet.

He [Kaleta] has a trademark thing going now,” Miller noted after finishing with 35 saves in upping his record to 32-15-7 with a 2.13 GAA and .932 save percentage. “He’s done it a few times in Madison Square Garden. I’m sure the fans here aren’t loving it too much, but we’re having fun with it.
After coming up on the short end despite 30 stops, Lundqvist pointed out: 

"I knew I was in trouble...was hoping for one of our players to take (Kaleta) out."
If only that were the case. Another hard luck loss in which his team couldn't provide enough support. The Rangers have 16 games left and trail Boston by two with two less to play. Perhaps Callahan summed it up best.

"We have to figure out how to get 2 points at home in order to make the playoffs."

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Patrick Kaleta, Buf (OT winner at 2:22-3rd goal in 2 games at MSG)
2nd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (30 saves incl.9/9 in 2nd)
1st Star-Ryan Miller, Buf (35 saves incl.13/14 in 3rd)

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