For once on Broadway, youth is being served. Best of all, opponents are finding out that the homegrown Rangers can play a little. At least that's what the club's third consecutive victim, the Hudson rival Devils learned last night. Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan each had a goal and an assist as the Gaborik-less Blueshirts defeated the Kovalchuk Devils 3-1 at MSG. Michal Rozsival also notched a goal and helper while teammate Henrik Lundqvist stood tall, besting rival Martin Brodeur with 27 saves including some dandies late that prevented a New Jersey comeback.
John Tortorella's suddenly improving club won most of the battles against a fragile nemesis that can't seem to get out of its own way. The Rangers were stronger on the puck and more diligent defensively coming back hard and blocking 21 shots, including four from stalwart Dan Girardi who blanketed Ilya Kovalchuk most of the night. The greater attention to detail is a big reason they've reeled off three straight in succession.
"If you don't play the system you're just going to stick out like a sore thumb...everyone is doing it," was the way an effective Sean Avery described the difference after helping set up Rozsival's second of the season which opened the scoring. Sticking mostly to hockey, the Ranger assist leader (5) is playing his best hockey in a couple of years. While foe David Clarkson tried to goon it up, Avery stayed within himself while continuing solid chemistry with rookie pivot Derek Stepan and vet Ruslan Fedotenko. Only in on one goal, the unlikely trio generated chances.
Against a team without an identity thus far despite oodles of talent (sound familiar???), the Rangers came out and attacked, generating plenty of opportunities. They outshot the Devils 17-10 in the first but couldn't get the puck past a sharp Brodeur, who turned away Girardi and Mike Del Zotto on two good power plays where they moved the puck well and got shots through. With the game still scoreless, the penalty kill came through with Avery in the box. When he returned, his initial shot from the left circle caught the Devil goalie up high. A Fedotenko wide offering then caromed off the boards to Rozsival, who one-timed it past Brodeur for a 1-0 lead 86 seconds into the second period. Like the defenseman's first goal also on home ice despite little support, the puck changed direction- this time going off Andy Greene.
Following a Rozsival penalty, the Rangers maintained their lead with stellar D and a more aggressive offense that made Brodeur work. In fact, they held a 29-16 edge after two. As fate would have it, it was a Kovalchuk minor that resulted in Callahan's first. A hustling Girardi got position on the returning Russian who was scratched previously, forcing the Devil company man to take him down. Callahan had done it all except score. In a game where the future Ranger captain registered a game high seven hits and blocked four shots, Cally finally got the collective monkey off his back when he deflected home a Dubinsky shot pass over Brodeur, increasing to 2-0 at 12:22. Rozsival added an assist. His two goals and four helpers pace all Ranger blueliners yet was still booed.
"It's unfortunate. I know it gets under my skin a bit when it happens," noted Callahan.
It could've been more but Brodeur kept the Devils afloat with a couple of stops on favorite target Avery. The Blueshirts failed to take advantage of New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner's third minor and also couldn't cash in with Oliver Magnan-Grenier off early in the third. With John MacLean's club finally showing a pulse, they dictated play tilting the ice. Lundqvist, who hardly broke a sweat early except for a sliding denial of a Kovalchuk bid- made some key stops in a busier third that saw the Devs outshoot his club 12-5. He turned away Langenbrunner from the right circle to keep the hosts up a pair.
With the Devils still unable to breakthrough, it looked like King Henrik might record his 25th career shutout. But some hustle from Matt Corrente and the Devs' best forward Dainius Zubrus made it more interesting. Rozsival swung the puck around which took a funny bounce out of Brandon Prust's reach. Stepan over skated allowing Corrente to keep it in. The Devil rookie blueliner then fired a low wrister on Lundqvist that drew a rebound. Zubrus got inside position on Rozsival and made a sweet backhand dish to an uncovered Kovalchuk, who deposited his third, cutting it to 2-1 with 5:52 left.
The Devils pushed for the equalizer but Lundqvist twice shutdown rookie Jacob Josefson and then made the save of the game on Matt Taormina, whose one-timer with over a minute left fooled the Ranger goalie, who wasn't sure he got it before Brian Boyle cleared the puck. "He really cemented it there for us the latter half of that (third) period," Tortorella said.
With Brodeur on the bench for an extra attacker, it was the solid defensive play of Dubinsky and Callahan that salted it. With time winding down, the Devils nearly had Kovalchuk set up but Callahan got to him and the two inadvertently collided with the puck coming to Dubinsky, who shot it down into the vacant net for his club-leading fourth with a second to go.
“We knew coming in that we needed to have a big year,” Callahan told NY Sportsday's Joe McDonald afterwards. “Losing those guys is tough, but it put a little bit more responsibility on us and it seems like we have taken off.”
No coincidence that they've been instrumental in the team's resurgence. Callahan. Dubinsky. Anisimov. Stepan. Staal. Girardi. Del Zotto. Gilroy. Lundqvist. Get used to it.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (27 saves, incl.11/12 in 3rd for 1st win MSG win this year)
2nd Star-Michal Rozsival, NYR (goal, assist, 2 SOG, blocked shot in 22:52)
1st Star-Callahan/Dubinsky, NYR (2-2-4, +2, 6 SOG, 10 hits, 7 blocked shots, 4 takeaways)