Monday, March 21, 2011

Callahan sets career high in big win aided by Cooke

Even in a year which he missed time, Ryan Callahan has managed to set new career highs across the board. The next captain delivered big time with his career best 23rd goal and two assists in a Matt Cooke induced 5-2 stirring comeback win over the NHL's dirtiest team, the Pens yesterday. In 53 games, the '04 fourth round gem from Rochester now has 23 goals and 23 assists for 46 points, putting him only behind scoring leader Brandon Dubinsky, whose three-point outing (ENG, 2 A) finally allowed him to reach 50 on the season.

It was another game where our Blueshirts dug in, showing tremendous heart in bouncing back from a dismal second in which they were outshot 19-7 to pull out a season high fourth straight win. Combined with Buffalo's stunning overtime loss to Nashville that featured rookie Blake Geoffrion's first hat trick, the Rangers gained a point on the seventh Sabres- extending to a three point lead and five better than ninth Carolina. Toronto trails by eight and the Devils, who hung in on yesterday's 13 save Martin Brodeur shutout, are 10 back.

A fiercely competitive game that was closer than the final score got marred by the latest Cooke shenanigans. With the game still tied at one thanks to a standout performance from gutsy Henrik Lundqvist (38 saves) battling pest Max Talbot and a stiff neck, Cooke deliberately elbowed rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh from behind in the head. Precisely the kind of blindside hit the league wants out of the game. In light of all the concussions due to such disrespectful cheap shots, it was another strike against a player who either won't get it or doesn't seem to care about the livelihood of his peers after hockey. Just ask Keith Primeau, who still has days where he can't get out of bed five years after retiring. Luckily, the future shutdown Ranger blueliner was okay enough to return and contribute on Derek Stepan's insurance marker that erased all doubt.

I didn’t see him coming. I know it hurt, that’s for sure,” McDonagh said of Cooke's vicious elbow that forced trainer Jim Ramsay to use protocol by asking him three questions before allowing the University Of Wisconsin product to return. “I would hope it wasn’t his intent. It’s a tight game. I’m sure he’s not trying to get his team a five-minute penalty. He’d probably just trying to finish his check and just caught me wrong.”

I don’t think you can talk about eliminating head shots from the game, as we have as an organization, and not expect (Cooke’s hit) to be examined,” Pens' head man Dan Bylsma stated without remarkably defending the latest action from his controversial pupil, who actually is an effective player when he isn't injuring opponents. “It’s what looks to be a contact right to the head on the play, so the league will look at that and treat it as such.

Of course, it would occur on NBC with Pierre McGuire and Ed Olczyk at a loss for words. A rarity for the do everything TSN analyst who loves chiming in. Astonishingly, with Cooke immediately ejected for an elbowing major, the Penguins No.1 penalty kill struck when Chris Kunitz took advantage of some sloppy Ranger play in the neutral zone to tally shorthanded. After a couple of minutes of zilch, Kunitz stole the puck and used Dan Girardi as a screen, going high stickside on Lundqvist for a 2-1 Pittsburgh lead with 13:34 left. On a day Lundqvist responded to John Tortorella's challenge to play following Benoit Pouliot running him over in Friday's rout of Montreal, perhaps he could've had it. But it was a great individual effort by the Pens' most underrated player and perfect shot.

With it looking like the major penalty would go to waste, Matt Niskanen who Lundqvist denied twice, took an undisciplined double minor after high sticking Callahan, who returned with a bloody beak. Finally, rejuvenated Marian Gaborik got to some loose change in front, burying his fifth goal in five games. The goal was set up by Bryan McCabe, whose low one-timer through heavy traffic caromed off Marc-Andre Fleury right to Gaborik for his 21st. Still on the power play, Callahan cashed in thanks to a broken play. Mats Zuccarello's shot went wide behind the net to ex-Pen Erik Christensen, who also missed. But the puck caromed right to Callahan who noticed Fleury down and immediately fired his 23rd upstairs for two goals in 11 seconds, suddenly moving the Rangers in front.

It’s pretty easy to get down on ourselves (and) hang our heads after letting up a goal on the power play like that,” said Callahan, who extended his goal streak to three straight. “But to our credit, we showed a lot of character coming back and still working.”

Not surprisingly, in a game where the Pens benefited from two generous penalties, they finally got a legit one when McDonagh lost position and tripped Kris Letang,who had a path to the net. Ironically, the stripes ignored a Dubinsky chop that broke a stick on one of those earlier power plays. Go figure. In any event, Pittsburgh had a great chance to tie it with 3:25 remaining. They pushed hard, getting all sorts of pressure on Lundqvist, who made a sprawling pad save with at least three Pens searching for the rebound. On a day where they were minus Marc Staal, the Rangers stood up for their goalie with Callahan roughing up Talbot earlier even though it was okay for him to get an extra shot in on Lundqvist. This time, Mike Sauer pushed Kunitz down and Tyler Kennedy was shoved away by teammates with the puck lying right next to our goalie.

The critical moment was the best shot Pittsburgh had. Our penalty kill got the job done. Just after it expired, Lundqvist made one more difficult stop on a tricky offering from Dustin Jeffrey. Able to kick it out to McDonagh, who pulled away from a couple of Pens for a mini-break. With the chase on, McDonagh forced Fleury to make one save and then followed up his rebound which then sailed out to Stepan, who deposited his 19th at 18:45 to salt it away. All too fitting that the recipient of a Cooke elbow that the league actually got right suspending him the rest of the season (10 games) plus the first round, was involved in the finish.

With Fleury off for an extra attacker, Callahan found Dubinsky for an empty netter that put the exclamation point on the latest huge win.

Earlier, Artem Anisimov traded first period goals with Jordan Staal in a well played stanza that saw each Patrick rival take turns controlling the action. Anisimov, who also added an assist for another multi-point effort, benefited from a nice Callahan feed from the right corner- steering home his 18th with 9:40 left in the first. However, the Pens bounced back thanks to a great James Neal outlet that sprung Staal, whose forehand deke beat Lundqvist clean 4:39 later. On the play, Girardi was exploited with fill-in partner Steve Eminger. Each were too close when Neal threaded the needle for Staal's 10th. Rookie Ben Lovejoy added a helper.

Girardi and Eminger struggled all day but Tortorella kept them intact while utilizing go-to rookie tandem McDonagh and Sauer, who were strong again finishing plus-four with an assist. The Pens generated plenty in the middle frame but couldn't solve Lundqvist, who was at his best.

Hank played with some (guts), didn’t he?” praised Tortorella. “He played very well right on through. He gave us a chance … and then we capitalized on their penalties in the third period.”

Right now it’s fun,” Lundqvist added with his club's next big one tomorrow against the Panthers at home. “When you’re winning, everybody’s having fun.”

Who could disagree with that?

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Ryan McDonagh, NYR (assist, 2 PIM, +2 in 28 shifts-18:09)
2nd Star-Anisimov-Dubinsky-Callahan, NYR (3-5-8, +3, 9 hits, 3 blocked shots, Dubi 11-6 draws)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (38 saves incl. 19/19 in 2nd)

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