Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nash fluke goal lifts Jackets past Rangers

It was one of those nights where no matter how hard our guys tried, it wasn't going to be enough in what amounted to a frustrating 3-1 loss at Columbus. As expected against a team that doesn't score much, it was a tight checking game which was highly competitive. There were plenty of puck battles in the corners and crunching hits from both sides.

Ultimately, what it came down to was Steve Mason (32 saves) was better than Henrik Lundqvist (20 stops), who allowed a dreadful winner to Rick Nash from an impossible angle with 5:09 left that doomed the Rangers. On the play, Nash got a step on Marc Staal who fell down but still recovered keeping the star Blue Jacket outside where he threw a turnaround prayer that squeaked between Lundqvist and the post. The stunning goal along with a failed power play in which Alex Frolov was inexplicably out along with Erik Christensen instead of Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan, added up to just the club's fifth road defeat (11-5).

It was a game that made you throw your arms up in the air because we've seen these before. Especially against beatable teams like Columbus. Though the way tweeps make it sound, you'd think the Jackets sucked when they improved to 16-11-1 (33 Pts) which isn't that different from our 17-13-1 mark that now has us in seventh behind the Thrashers, who stunned the Islanders 6-5 in an unusual atmosphere filled with 1,100 Nordique fans who invaded Nassau Coliseum. More on that story later.

For all the good things our team's accomplished, they find themselves with 35 points, one in front of the Lightning and seven ahead of the Sabres, who have recovered nicely up till tonight's predictable loss to the Pens. It won't get any easier with the suddenly struggling Caps invading MSG tomorrow for another crucial back-to-back. Our team has yet to lose the second game in those instances but now must do it on home ice where they bring a dismal 6-8-1 mark into it. Oh. And they see Sid The Kid Wednesday in enemy territory.  This is a tricky part of the schedule where John Tortorella's club must stick with it.

The Rangers controlled much of the first two periods, forcing Mason to be good. He made a few key stops including getting a piece of an Artem Anisimov shot and a Marian Gaborik labeler which gave his team a chance. But perhaps the biggest save came with his team trailing midway through the contest when Gaborik had Derek Stepan set up but the former Calder winner slid across to rob him, keeping the game within reach. Marc Staal had scored on the power play, converting a beautiful backdoor feed from Ruslan Fedotenko breaking the scoreless tie at 9:53 of the second. It was his fifth of the season and third power play goal as he continues to improve offensively. Though he finished minus-two, in no way was it his fault with Lundqvist permitting a bad Nash decider and then later sealing it with our goalie scrambling back with under a minute left. Our D did a good job keeping Nash to the outside. But the stat sheet will say he scored twice and our D were minuses. A bit misleading.

Lundqvist also permitted a fluky tying goal to Antoine Vermette on a busted play in which R.J. Umberger flung a puck towards the net which caromed off Vermette's stick under our goalie. While it did change direction, it was one he could've had. But to be blunt, the Jackets never should've scored because they invented a phantom slash on Erik Christensen, who did nothing wrong other than watch the Jacket deliberately toss his stick to the ice drawing the attention of the two blind mice refs. It worked like a charm and resulted in changing the game. Nash also drew an assist. So, on a night he in no way dominated, the All-Star left wing finished with three points, getting the Ohio hosts a win.

Sometimes, that's how it goes. Just ask Anisimov, who was back with draft 'mates Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan playing his most inspired hockey in weeks. Twice he was thwarted by Mason, who entered with a sub-3.00 GAA. Something other Ranger bloggers alluded to in bashing our team. But if they watched, our guys hustled all game and generated chances. On this night, Mason was strong and even had some help from the crossbar on a Mike Del Zotto power play opportunity off a great Gaborik feed. Del Zotto, who sat out last game was alright in 22:45 taking regular PP shifts with Stepan at the other point. He had chances and played better defensively, teaming well with Michal Rozsival while Matt Gilroy stayed in with Mike Sauer with Steve Eminger day-to-day. The D wasn't the issue. Speaking of which, credit the BJ's with limiting Gaborik's time and space. In particular Rotislav Klesla, who did a great job along with Jan Hejda.

Neither was the work ethic with even Frolov getting chances on Mason while working well with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust. This was a game where they couldn't beat the goalie despite plenty of opportunities. Callahan was particularly strong around the net forcing Mason to make tough stops. Even Erik Christensen had a great chance but missed wide. Sometimes, you're not going to have luck. Chalk it up to Lundqvist having an off night and our guys not getting the break needed to keep it going. Now, it's onto the Caps where they'll need Henrik to be sharper and find the back of the net against a weaker team defense. We'll see what they're made of.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Brian Boyle, NYR (3 SOG in 13:49, around the puck all night)
2nd Star-Rick Nash, CBJ (2 goals incl. GW w/5:09 left, assist)
1st Star-Steve Mason, CBJ (32 saves incl.22/23 first 2 periods)

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