For the first time this season, the Rangers came to play from start to finish. At least that's how new backup Martin Biron termed it after looking sharp while making 24 stops, including a few money ones down the stretch to help his new team snap a three-game skid. The former Islander and Sabre who completed the New York hat trick made Ruslan Fedotenko and Artem Anisimov's first period tallies stand up in a well earned 2-1 road win over the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre- avenging last week's home opener.
“As a team, I think this was the first time this year that we played a solid 60 minutes,” Biron said. “We have to play up to that standard the rest of the season.”
Minus Marian Gaborik a second game in a row, this time the Blueshirts competed in all aspects. They went to the dirty areas to score both goals and stifled the Leafs by blocking 30 shots. The trio of Dan Girardi, Mike Del Zotto and a strong Michal Rozsival combined for 18 of the 30 while Ryan Callahan played like a future captain- doing his part even though he wasn't rewarded with a goal in nearly 22 big minutes. The popular alternate did help setup the winner, which came 61 seconds after Fedotenko stuffed home his first of the season. He also disrupted the Toronto power play which took the collar in five chances, marking the first time the Rangers held an opponent without a power play goal.
John Tortorella made one other lineup change, sitting vet Steve Eminger for Mike Sauer, who again did nothing wrong paired alongside Matt Gilroy. Both were on the ice for a goal for, finishing plus-one apiece. Even if neither saw any time late, it's now up to the coach to give them more games. He again leaned heavily on the front four of Marc Staal, Girardi, Rozsival and Del Zotto and got the kind of performance necessary for the club to compete. In particular, Del Zotto and Rozsival were outstanding. Only the '05-06 Czech mainstay is over 30. It was nice to see the frequent booing target make a sweet dish across for Anisimov's decider. With a mostly inexperienced group, that's the kind of game they need from him. When he's not in the box or fumbling the puck at the point, Rozy is a solid contributor.
There was even a Derek Boogaard sighting with the new enforcing taking on former Ranger Colton Orr early on with Orr getting the knockdown on a right. Afterwards, the Blueshirts took control outshooting the Leafs 15-8 while scoring twice, cashing in on Leafs' neutral zone turnovers. The first goal was all Derek Stepan, who stole the puck at center and turned on the jets before centering a pass which both Sean Avery and Fedotenko took whacks at with the latter getting rewarded with his first as a Ranger. Good to see this cohesive trio back together. Before the Leafs could recover, a beautiful passing play started by Callahan saw a pinching Rozsival hit Anisimov perfectly for his second.
Only some superb netminding from Leaf backup Jonas Gustavsson kept the Rangers from getting more. The Monster finished with 30 saves, giving his team a chance to comeback. The Rangers' 32 shots were the most Toronto had allowed with them becoming the first opponent to reach 30 against Ron Wilson's improved club who lost for the first time in regulation- falling to 4-1-1. It was their second consecutive home loss following an overtime defeat to the Islanders.
Gustavsson's goaltending nearly swung the contest. Though they didn't permit a shot the first half of the third, the Blueshirts couldn't put it out of reach. Instead, Public Enemy No.1 Colby Armstrong tallied his first as a Leaf when he was neatly set up by former Sabre Clarke MacArthur who got inside position on a sliding Girardi and made a great play which cut it to 2-1 with 8:56 remaining. As they did last year, the Leafs came hard but Biron turned them away making a pair of strong denials from in tight. During the postgame interview with MSG's John Giannone, he spoke about just being ready when Kris Versteeg moved in on a power play breakaway. He knew he had to shoot and gave him glove before taking it away and then denying a point blank rebound. The two biggest saves came after Tomas Kaberle threaded the needle to the streaking ex-Hawk, who couldn't beat Biron.
Even more gratifying was how the Rangers played the final 46 ticks controlling the puck and not giving the Leafs a sniff. Both Callahan and Anisimov were out for that final shift and Rozsival made two good defensive plays while working well with Del Zotto. In a game I hardly saw due to 90 minutes in the gym, I could tell how badly our guys wanted it. That was something new which must continue when they visit a tough Boston team Saturday that won again last night.
It's real simple. If they want to have a season, this is how they must perform. Thursday was a nice start.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (assist, 4 SOG, +1 in 24:42)
2nd Star-Michal Rozsival, NYR (primary assist on GW, +1 in 24:00)
1st Star-Martin Biron, NYR (24 saves incl.11/11 in 2nd for 1st win in 1st start as Ranger)