Friday, November 4, 2011

Christy, Gaborik solve Hiller in shootout win

Nobody comes under more scrutiny than Erik Christensen. Not even the much debated Sean Avery, who will make his season debut tomorrow versus the Canadiens with Wojtek Wolski on the shelf.

Christy is an interesting character, who gives you a lot of perspective into the person he is on and off the ice. When the inconsistent center isn't there driving myself and many fans nuts, it's hard to make a case for retaining him. Just when you think you know someone, we got a very different look into a young man who's contributed to two consecutive home wins over San Jose and Anaheim. Against the Sharks, he made two nifty passes to set up big goals and versus the Ducks, there he was again solving Jonas Hiller along with Marian Gaborik in the Rangers' 2-1 shootout victory at MSG Thursday.

I’m happy I got a chance to go. My record isn’t that good,” the Great Gabby said after converting only his third in 20 career attempts. “I had my move before I went. I tried to fake a move before I shot and it worked out well. Before I went to shoot, I tried to make up my mind, and I looked at him, and he was kind of challenging me a bit.

While it's easy to point to the Great Gabby's (yes, he's back) wizardry in Round Three that ultimately decided it with Henrik Lundqvist snuffing out Bobby Ryan in last licks, Christensen kept a cool head leading off in the first to score the team's first shootout goal of the season. After being blank in two prior attempts, he went back to his Swedish roots by emulating Peter Forsberg with the ever exciting one-handed deke which snuck through Hiller. Perhaps that was enough to finally break the brick wall the much overlooked Anaheim goalie put up following unsung hero Jeff Woywitka's first as a Ranger. It's not often but the goaltending from Hiller was off the charts. Fantastic. Super. Sensational. Yes. Lundqvist wound up with three more stops (27 to Hiller's 24) but that was due to a strong Duck third where they used their speed and tempo to make life difficult. Outside of maybe one he'd like back on a ripper of a shot from Ryan that knotted it late in the second, King Henrik was stellar- standing up to the challenge in a busy third that saw Anaheim outshoot New York 15-4.

In particular, Cam Fowler was everywhere. Some still like to compare the rebirth of Mike Del Zotto, who ironically sports the identical No.4 as the second-year Duck. However, John Tortorella doesn't trust MDZ enough to put him out in the final minute of tie games. He can lean on emerging star Ryan McDonagh and warrior Dan Girardi while Marc Staal recovers from PCS. Randy Carlyle doesn't have that luxury. Even with Lubomir Visnovsky, Toni Lydman and Francois Beauchemin, he opted to give Fowler the opportunity to go for it in crunch time. The man who skates like Scott Niedermayer didn't disappoint, creating dangerous chances by jumping in and shooting the puck. If there's one bugaboo with Del Zotto, it's that he still is hesitant to fire away- instead opting to defer to either Gaborik or Brad Richards. Not that there's anything wrong with it as one odd pass to Gabby nearly ended it in overtime.

Speaking of the fancy four-on-four, it was terrific. Both teams went for it but the Blueshirts had like five different chances to win it only to see Hiller get in the path or alter shots high and wide. Our team made the extra passes and cut it too fine. All credit to the elite goalie, who has recovered nicely from vertigo. His play didn't go unnoticed.

Hiller is good,” Lundqvist praised of his Swiss counterpart who displayed a cat-like glove that even denied unlikely first period candidate Steve Eminger, who could only chuckle during a stoppage. “He’s a good one-on-one goalie. He’s quick side-to-side.”

"He made some real big stops,” Carlyle added. “I think the first period, he kept us alive and we only gave up the one goal.”

Hiller's act was good enough to earn 2nd Star even though in our book, he was No.1. They gave it to Gaborik. A fine choice. He once again dominated throughout. It doesn't seem to matter who he plays with. Though when our team failed on a couple of power plays and couldn't find a second goal, I was begging Tort to doubleshift him with Richards to try for another. Instead, Ryan came flying down the right side and used McDonagh's backing in to blast one past Lundqvist. Sometimes, the coach must do what it takes to get offense. What's wrong with giving Artem Anisimov a shift with former Draftmates Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan? He's been outplayed by Derek Stepan but isn't being put in a position to succeed. These are areas the coach can do better.

Early on, a wonderful diagonal Gaborik pass found Woywitka, who shot through a D-Step screen for his first. Pretty awesome. News had spread that the club had reached agreement with D Anton Stralman (rumored to be 1 year, $900,000). So, who knows how long Woywitka will stick around. I'm rooting for him to stay as he's been a pleasant surprise. Nice move giving Woywitka the Broadway hat. A very cool moment.

We had some good zone pressure and Gabs is coming around the net there, he made a great play and I stayed a little wider, a little higher and he got the pass through to me," the steady waiver pickup said. "I wanted to get it off as quick as I could, as hard as I could and got it past the first set of legs, and once you do that anything can happen. It was exciting.
In the skill competition, ageless wonder Teemu Selanne tied it with a backhand deke top shelf. I swear the Finnish Flash could play till 50 if he so desired. The skating, hands and ferocity are still there. He'll always be one of our faves. During MSG's coverage, they flashed back to that amazing rookie season of '92-93 when he shattered Paul Stastny's records with 76 goals and 132 points the same year Eric Lindros came in. Teemu has 642 career goals, ranking second to Jaromir Jagr (646) among active players. Both should pass Brendan Shanahan (656) for 11th all-time with Luc Robitaille (668) within reach.

After Richards was denied by Hiller, Lundqvist got a piece of Corey Perry's high labeler, setting the stage for Gaborik. Instead of doing something ordinary, he danced and faked shot twice before going to the backhand for a spectacular goal. All that was left was for Lundqvist to exact revenge on Ryan, who got the better of him in oddly enough, a 2-1 Anaheim shootout win in Stockholm. King Henrik got a shoulder on it and pumped his fists.

“He’s been our best player this year," a pleased Tortorella explained of Gaborik. "Two for 19, but he’s ready to take the next step. I’m glad for him. I hope it helps him. Because he’s been our most consistent player offensively and I’m glad for him it worked out.”

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Cam Fowler, Ana (27:03, 2 SOG, +1, dangerous)
2nd Star-Marian Gaborik, NYR (assist, shootout decider, game high 7 SOG)
1st Star-Jonas Hiller, Ana (24 saves incl. some highlight reel)

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