Friday, October 21, 2011

McDonagh stuns Flames

The super soph was at it again. A game removed from breaking out with a goal and assist, Ryan McDonagh continued his rapid improvement by stunning the Flames at the last split second. After exchanging four goals and fisticuffs in a wildly entertaining first period, the Rangers and Calgary were locked in a defensive battle with a shootout looming.

Even when the Blueshirts carried the four-on-four in overtime, it still seemed destined for the skill competition. But a strange thing happened. Brandon Dubinsky wouldn't give up on a last second play, dropping the puck to Dan Girardi, who intentionally fired wide off the backboards right to a wide open McDonagh, who buried it for an unbelievable 3-2 win with 0.5 seconds left. An unlikely conclusion to a great game.

Danny’s a smart player, I know he’s just putting it anywhere where it’s not going to get blocked and it was fortunate that it kicked off the boards there,” said McDonagh. “We were talking about how the boards could be used to our advantage and it did there.”
From the outset, Calgary tried to set the tone with physical play. As if on cue, Jarome Iginla challenged Ryan Callahan to no avail. The Calgary franchise scoring leader later nailed Cally with a clean check during a power play. With his team again on the short end of the stick, the Ranger captain took the hit to clear the puck out. That's the kind of play we expect from our team, who despite permitting a power play goal to Mark Giordano, were aggressive- killing off four of five, including a pivotal one down the stretch.

Outstanding were ex-Flame Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle, who combined for a nice shorthanded goal that gave the Rangers their second lead. But Calgary struck back thanks to Giordano, who took an Iginla feed and beat an irate Henrik Lundqvist through a screen. McDonagh accidentally screened our goalie, who picked up Giordano's shot too late. Alex Tanguay added his second helper of the night. He also set up Iginla to level it at 1-1, taking advantage of a rare Dan Girardi miscue that allowed the former Cup winner to find Jarome for an easy redirect. Marian Gaborik started the scoring with his fourth in another bizarre way. Something called a power play goal. Typically, the Rangers were the last team to connect on the power play. Of course, it was only our fifth game with every single one on the road. No wonder we haven't been getting the benefit of whistles. Perhaps that'll change once they host the Leafs next Thursday (10/27).

Gaborik's back to form, skating with purpose and being dangerous. It's safe to say he and Brad Richards have found chemistry along with key complement Derek Stepan, who threaded the needle to Gabby for a tap-in. It was his club-leading fourth goal with Richards also earning an assist. Richy Rich has a point in all five games (1-4-5). Stepan, who deserved a helper versus the Islanders, got his first point of the season. He really has looked good, making outstanding defensive plays while taking the body. The Wisconsin product brings that same intangible that Chris Drury did. High skill set. It's amazing how good our two Badgers look. D-Step fitting in on the top line with Wojtek Wolski still nursing a groin injury, and McDonagh smoothly transitioning to top pair with Girardi while showing off improved offense.

There's a lot to be said for McD and how quick a learner he is. The skating, shot and instincts get better all the time. He definitely looks like our most talented blueliner with no disrespect shown to Marc Staal. It just seems that he has a higher ceiling in that he can contribute more offensively while continuing stellar defensive work. Though last night wasn't one of his best. It's exciting to see the development of him and budding rookie Tim Erixon, who played his best game despite plenty of boos whenever he touched the puck. Calgary fans let him know how they feel about the 20-year old Swede not signing. However, it didn't faze him. Instead, Erixon made sound reads and smart defensive plays while teamed with adventurous partner Mike Del Zotto, whose offense is coming. DZ has been a bit more aggressive as evidenced by Mike Rupp's goal he set up the other day. John Tortorella's confidence has grown, rewarding the former first rounder with 22 shifts (18:12).

It’s a great experience for him because there has been some struggles with his play but he stays with it,” Tortorella pointed out. “As we go through here, some of those guys that are in spots that they didn’t expect to be in, it’s going to help our team in the long run.”
There also were teammates standing up for each other like when Kris Newbury didn't take kindly to Cory Sarich's hit from behind on Richards, quickly coming to Brad's aid. Though he got the extra for instigating (this while the blind mice turned a blind eye to Sarich's boarding) and Calgary converted, it was a good penalty to take. You can't get pushed around. Rupp also dropped the gloves with Tim Jackman early on before things settled down.

It was a fun game. Eventually, the radar shifted to Lundqvist (33 saves, 157-166 over 5 GP) and second-year man Henrik Karlsson, who gave a good account of himself with 26 stops, including some close calls. Meanwhile, Lundqvist was again outstanding- flat out robbing Iginla by somehow stacking the pad on a gimme. Once he let in the second, he wasn't going to give up anything else. King Henrik is just so on right now. He is playing the best hockey of his already brilliant career. With great rebound control and so technically sound, could this be the year he finally wins a Vezina? Keep your fingers crossed.

“I was getting ready for it, so I was really happy to see the puck go in because they have some skilled guys to send out for a shootout,” Lundqvist noted of the unpredictable finish.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Marian Gaborik, (PPG-fourth of season, 8 SOG)
2nd Star-Jarome Iginla, Cgy (goal, assist)
1st Star-Ryan McDonagh, NYR (game-winner w/1.3 secs left)

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