Thursday, October 20, 2011

Game Preview: King Henrik looks to stay hot in Alberta

In this league, you're only as hot as your goalie. Especially when in the early going, the Rangers had struggled to score goals until a four-goal third period explosion- stunning Roberto Luongo and the Canucks 4-zip. It was their first win of the season and couldn't have come at a better time.

Till that point, Henrik Lundqvist had been busy holding them in despite being outshot 28-9. If not for the sensational play from King Henrik, it would've been a cake walk for the Canucks, who dominated long stretches while Luongo was on vacation. The Rangers continued a disturbing early trend of taking undisciplined penalties with one in the offensive zone from Brandon Prust landing him on the bench for a while. Ironically, the hard working grinder would factor in despite only 13 shifts (7:12), setting up unlikely goalscorer Mike Rupp while also later finding linemate Brian Boyle for their third straight goal.

None of it would've mattered if not for Lundqvist, who arguably played his best game as a Ranger, stoning Canuck after Canuck en route to his 36th career shutout. He led by example, controlling his rebounds with ease despite relentless pressure. It didn't matter if Henrik Sedin went around Mike Del Zotto like a traffic cone following Rupp's first as a Blueshirt. There was Henrik turning away four point blank chances in a row to keep his team ahead. Soon after, the coming out party of Ryan McDonagh helped silence Canuckleheads. The sophomore D finished off a textbook give-and-go with Brandon Dubinsky, increasing the lead to two.

Following outstanding work from Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko, who combined to find a cutting Boyle for a wicked shot top shelf, there was McDonagh again making like Brian Leetch, cruising towards Luongo before dishing for Marian Gaborik's tap-in that put the exclamation point on a big win. They won despite being shorthanded eight times. Vancouver's dominance didn't mean a thing due to Lundqvist, who posted back-to-back shutouts on the Western power. It was last year when he turned aside all 38 in a home win. That's 78 straight if you're keeping track. It wasn't long ago when the anticipated Henrik/Louie showdown on Versus was a dud with the King pulling himself. Perhaps he had a message for those foolish GMs who passed on him for the Vezina for Canadian hero Luongo.

"I guess this game he thought I deserved it, so I’m wearing it with a lot of pride," the elated Swede told reporters after sporting Brad Richards' winning hat: "And it also looks pretty good."

"We wanted this one, and it’s a nice feeling when you’ve got him back there," Richards added after notching a helper on Gaborik's third. "You could see early on he was in the zone.”

Perhaps the strong third will bring the team together as they prepare for tonight's match in Alberta versus Calgary. As John Tortorella reminded everyone, they still have some things to work on. It'll be interesting to see how they deal with chaotic forwards Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque, who are off to good starts along with Alex Tanguay. They also don't want to awaken Flames' franchise leading scorer Jarome Iginla. They're coming off a come from behind 2-1 win over Edmonton in which consecutive tallies from Jay Bouwmeester and Tanguay rallied them past their nemesis Tuesday.

The Saddledome can be a tough place to play. So, it should be noisy. There's also the strong play of Miikka Kiprusoff, who's strung together three good starts in a row. He was outstanding making 24 stops versus Edmonton to preserve their win. Calgary likes to be physical led by Bourque and Glencross, who the Rangers don't need any reminders on (ie Chris Drury). They also boast ex-Devil heavyweight Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who could be an opponent for Rupp tonight. Vet Scott Hannan's been a solid addition to a blueline led by underrated Mark Giordano, who should see a lot of the Richards line along with Bouwmeester. Cory Sarich is also tough.

There will also be familiar faces Olli Jokinen and probably Roman Horak, who the Rangers parted with to get Tim Erixon. If the ex-Ranger draft pick plays, he'll center the third line. That would be an intriguing storyline along with the goalie match-up (Lundqvist/Kiprusoff) assuming it comes down. Ironically, Kipper has fared well versus us, winning three of four with a 1.51 GAA. However, they took last year's lone meeting 2-1 behind 31 saves from backup Martin Biron. Considering that they don't play Edmonton until Saturday, it makes sense to stick with Lundqvist, who's repelled 124 of 131 shots thus far. We'll see what Tort decides.

Wojtek Wolski (groin) is hoping to make his season debut. Otherwise, figure Tortorella to stick with what worked.


Del Zotto-Erixon

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