Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rangers awaken in time to edge Islanders

If tonight wasn't a microcosm of what's been a trying season, I don't know what is. The good news is the Rangers won to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. The bad is that neither the Devils nor Leafs cooperated. Notice we didn't mention Boston or Atlanta because they did what they were supposed to. Our team needed help from a loathesome rival and Brian Burke's guys north of the border. Unfortunately, the downside of Ilya Kovalchuk happened along with an ugly Toronto power play, allowing both teams ahead to hold serve. Patrice Bergeron's OT winner with 18.3 seconds left gave the B's 82 points- putting them into a three-way tie with idle Philadelphia and Montreal. Nik Antropov's 24th goal held up giving the Thrashers a 3-2 victory to move up to 80 points with five games left.

As for the Blueshirts, they awakened just in time to comeback and edge the Islanders 4-3 off the Meadowbrook. The club's third win in four (3-0-1) gives them 78 points, remaining two behind ninth Hotlanta and four out with six games to go. Boston's desperation 1-0 shutout OT triumph over New Jersey makes it less likely for John Tortorella's club to qualify for a fifth consecutive postseason. Amazingly, our post-lockout ('05-06 thru '08-09) is one of the longest active streaks, trailing the Red Wings who haven't clinched No.19 along with the Devils (lucky No.13 in a row). Calgary, who also looks like toast- has made the playoffs five straight seasons dating back to their miraculous run to the Cup Final pre-lockout. San Jose made it six. So, that puts us fifth. Correction: Per BroadwayBlue, we were tied with the Ducks. Loose translation: The Bettman dream has come true. P-A-R-I-T-Y

How to describe tonight's unpredictable/chaotic Ranger venture that allowed them to survive with their heads intact? Two words. Roller coaster. As evidenced in our prior rant, they couldn't have sucked any worse during a lifeless opening 20 minutes that were illustration A as to why this team doesn't deserve to make the playoffs. Anything they could do to foul up their situation beyond recovery, they tried. Lack of discipline. Be thy name Wade Redden leading to a fourth bench minor against your biggest rival, who of course were only too glad to cash it in via a seeing eye Mark Streit power play goal that went right past Henrik Lundqvist's glove. Lack of intensity. Allowing a much more determined Islander club hell bent on revenge to win every single battle in the uncompetitive first driving the NYR Twitter Universe mad. If only the nicolewesttts, JPLSs, NYRangerRealitys, carolena10s, howie9416s, antheiasnhenry5s snowkitten35s, EpicKaitlins played. There's only so much they can do. Instead, we watched in horror as a turnover led to Blake Comeau's marshmallow shot fooling Lundqvist. When the puck went off his pads and in off the post, it just screamed 'Classic tease.' Before the madness ended, my quick rant was up, almost daring them to wake up from the mushroom cloud they were stuck in.

Thankfully, Dwayne Roloson cooled off by permitting a Vinny Prospal stinker from a dreadful angle to give the Rangers life. Apparently, it also awoke Olli Jokinen who'd been as much of a help to our Drive For Five as Donald Brashear. The Jokester's first point since he was relevant (okay maybe not quite) got the juices flowing. And for the first time in weeks, he contributed a goal that tied it stunning everyone in the Coliseum. Even all the Ranger fans sitting near the glass had to be in a drunken daze wondering if they'd really witnessed it. He took full advantage of Kyle Okposo breaking his stick, stripping him of the puck before whizzing one upstairs for an unassisted tally.

By that point, the Islanders already blew their opportunity to take command of the game, severely misfiring on a two-man advantage following a brutal Brandon Prust hit from behind on John Tavares. Somehow, it was called just two for cross checking. In our view, it easily could've been five and a game. How they saw fit to call only a minor is beyond me. JT91 had no protection and could've gotten seriously hurt. But because he was able to get up and skate on his own power, a bush league call. Still, the Isles didn't do anything worth a dime with it and it wound up costing them the game. In fact, after outshooting their hated rival 9-4 over a dominant first, they were outshot 15-6 and outscored 3-zip in a dismal second that had to drive Scott Gordon nuts. For everything his club did right early, they reversed. Unable to convert on a couple of odd-man rushes, they watched Jokinen tie it and then left Marian Gaborik wide open for his 40th with 2:45 remaining, putting the guests ahead for good. Chris Drury outhustled an Islander to a loose puck behind the net and Aaron Voros centered it to Gaborik who snapped one through Roloson's wickets.

Gaborik's fourtieth is the second time in three seasons he's hit 40, also doing so in a healthy '07-08 with the Wild in which he established career highs in goals (42), assists (41) and points (83). In Game 70 for the Rangers, he became the 17th player in franchise history to score 40 and first since Jaromir Jagr's club record 54 in '05-06. Even with some of the slumps the Great Gabby's hit on an otherwise offensive starved team, Year One has been pretty good. The goal was his 80th point of the season. He needs three points to match a career best and four in the final half dozen to surpass it. He also played in almost every Olympic game for Slovakia scoring a few more while being hobbled. Not bad for a guy whose durability was severely questioned. The Rangers are going to need more from him if they're to have any chance.

Before the period's conclusion, Trevor Gillies took an ill advised roughing minor on Prust. After initially throwing him down post-whistle and then playing innocent, he twice went after Prust along the boards including a silly punch with his glove on, forcing the refs to call it. I think he saw the ice just once more. A late Islander shot a split second after the buzzer led to pushing and shoving from both sides involving P.A. Parenteau and Okposo. Playing his second game since a recall for injured Sean Avery, Parenteau again was effective in a scoring role for Tortorella. He later set up Marc Staal's decider. Michal Rozsival started it with a solid defensive play in his end before making a perfect outlet to Parenteau, who then cut and dished for Prospal leading to a two-on-one. He quickly moved the puck to an on-rushing Marc Staal, who caught Roloson moving with a quick low wrister that extended to 4-2 with less than 15 minutes left. Staal's sixth was his first since 1/19, ending a 25-game drought. The third-year blueliner was steady along with Rozsival with each logging big minutes throughout.

With nothing going on, the Islanders finally made it interesting when another odd Comeau offering went right past Lundqvist for his third multi-goal game in six weeks. He also had a hat trick on 3/2 vs Chicago and a pair on Valentine's Day vs Ottawa. No question the third-year forward's evolving into a solid player for the Isles. They have to be pleased with what they've gotten from the former '04 second rounder who improved to a career high 14 goals and 30 points tonight. Sean Bergenheim added an assist as did Mark Flood, who recorded his first NHL point. Congrats.

Unfortunately for the home club, Comeau's second of the night which made it 4-3 with still 6:33 remaining was as close as they got. To Lundqvist's credit, he steadied following the poor first turning aside 18 of the last 19- finishing with 25 saves en route to his 31st win. The 3/25 victory over who else but Martin Brodeur and Co. allowed him to make NHL history, becoming the first goalie ever to win 30-or-more in his first five seasons. Even if gimmick induced, major props to Henrik for being the one rock we got. I get on him a lot but he's been essentially naked this season and is poised to finish with the second highest save percentage of his career. No small task.

The Islanders pulled Roloson late but never really threatened as the Blueshirts did a good job in their end, getting a nice clear from Prust who must've had a laugh afterwards due to the Islanders' failure to stick up for Tavares. Inexcusable if you're an Islander fan. For the Rangers, they at least remembered there was a game and saved themselves from humiliation and virtual elimination. But with the teams in front of them four clear and Atlanta showing no indications of collapsing, it looks like they might have to win out. Does even the most homeristic Ranger fan actually believe they can do that?

For now, they'll continue the six-game road swing to Florida with the next one at the Lightning Friday and then to Florida the following day. In desperation mode, they finished March with a 6-5-3 record.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Michal Rozsival, NYR (4 hits, 3 blocked shots, +1 in 27:51)
2nd Star-Blake Comeau, NYI (2 goals-career best 14, 4 SOG, +1 in 17:45)
1st Star-Vinny Prospal, NYR (18th of season, assist, 3 SOG, +3 in 20:28)

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