Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lundqvist stands tall in win over Devils

Ruslan Fedotenko battles Tim Sestito on the opening faceoff during last night's Ranger 4-1 win over Hudson rival New Jersey.

They're separated by the Hudson River. Just a Path ride away, the Rangers and Devils renewed allegiances during the first Battle Of Hudson three months in the making. It was the Manhattan side that came out victorious over the Turnpike with headliner Henrik Lundqvist backstopping his team to a 4-1 win at a packed Prudential Center last night. 

In front of a makeshift defense that included emergency recall Tim Erixon, Lundqvist stood tall finishing with a game high 30 saves en route to his 23rd career victory over his favorite opponent. The Rangers needed every single one to get out of Newark with its second consecutive win in direct response to a two-game skid. That's been the story all year for John Tortorella's resilient club who never makes excuses. Even with the blueline battered minus Marc Staal, Mike Sauer and Steve Eminger, they fought back to steal two points thanks to Lundqvist. The scoreboard may have said otherwise but anyone who saw it knows the Devils controlled much of the action only to be denied by King Henrik.
I enjoy playing against this team,” Lundqvist pointed out after diminishing his career GAA to 1.85 versus the Devils. “It’s always a great challenge to play them. There’s a lot of action. We all knew that this was going to be a tough one.
Martin Brodeur brings out the best in Lundqvist, who was outstanding in keeping his team afloat despite a strong attack from New Jersey led by the ever dangerous top line of Adam Henrique, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Minus top scorer Patrik Elias (flu), the Devs entered having won four straight and seemed on their way to five when Travis Zajac got to the only bad rebound Lundqvist allowed to put the hosts in front 1-0 15:51 into the first period. In his third game, Zajac won a draw back to Petr Sykora, whose low shot leaked out. A mad scramble ensued with Ryan McDonagh unable to clear it before Zajac deposited his first. Dainius Zubrus helped set it up by crashing the net.

It easily could've been two or three without Lundqvist, who watched his teammates struggle to mount anything the first half. Part of it had to do with how the game began with pushing and shoving between fourth lines. When Cam Janssen asked former teammate Mike Rupp to go, he obliged the smaller foe who showed a lot of guts taking some hard lefts early before coming on late. Only his second game back, Rupp looked weary at the end and asked refs Tim Peel and Justin St.Pierre to step in. Somewhat astonishingly, the officiating was good. Other than Ryan Callahan and instigator Eric Boulton getting misconducts in a heated first, they did a good job letting the teams play.

The rough stuff wasn't done when Brandon Dubinsky and David Clarkson stopped talking and dropped 'em. Dubinsky managed a good left that buckled Clarkson, who fell which was enough for Dubi to stop. Clarkson was involved later when a hit on Erixon prompted a strong reaction from partner Stu Bickel. Bickel acquitted himself well in front of family, who while being interviewed by John Giannone saw Zajac score. I hate when that happens cause it takes away from the game.

The Devils certainly had their chances in a more even second that saw at least four goal posts struck. Derek Stepan had Brodeur beat from 45 feet out when his shot deflected off a Devil and drew iron. Brodeur really didn't see much rubber due to his quicker team having the puck. The Rangers did plenty of chasing, especially when the Parise line was buzzing. Lundqvist robbed Henrique twice, including a nice kick out off a nifty Parise set up. The defense was on its heels. Kovalchuk certainly looked good on the right side, meshing with his cohesive unit. He got off a strong shot that Lundqvist made a head save on. The man can certainly shoot it.

If there was an area which decided it, it was special teams with the Devils unable to cash in on three power plays. Part of it was due to the Ranger penalty kill, which did a solid job getting in the path of shots and making key clears. The Devs still had decent looks but just couldn't get the second on Lundqvist. They also missed the net quite a bit in the second with Clarkson blowing some huge opportunities where he was set up alone but fired high and wide. For a guy having a bounce back season (11 goals vs 12 all last year), he disappointed the home side.
We kept on scrapping and fought through it,” Tortorella said. “We started to take over in the second period and then kept on coming in the third. Hank made some key saves at key times and we just tried to stay with it. Eventually, we found a way to score some goals.
Given a chance to get back in it, the Rangers responded with some strong work from elevated Carl Hagelin, who was bumped up by Tortorella with Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. Hagelin helped generate chances, including a close call when a Richards shot pass was deflected by Callahan off the right post. Finally moving their legs, the Blueshirts turned the tide thanks to a brilliant rush by Derek Stepan. The second-year forward took a Marian Gaborik feed that saw our top finisher drilled, and then skated around a Devil before firing the puck into the slot off Kurt Foster for Artem Anisimov, who buried his seventh to knot it with 2:32 left in the second.

Suddenly with momentum, they nearly went ahead when Anisimov set up Stepan, who was denied by Brodeur on the short side. With it even, it was anyone's game. The first few shifts of the final stanza showed that as each side came close. A couple of more key stops from Lundqvist paid dividends when an unusual play allowed them to go ahead. Stepan started it by backing up the Devil D and then got the puck to Anisimov who methodically skated around to the right before flipping a tricky backhand that trickled off Brodeur right to Gaborik, who deposited his team best 18th at 4:45.
That’s how we score,” Gaborik explained after also netting an empty netter in the closing seconds on a special night that saw the Slovak record his 600th career point. “We get a lot of rebound, second-chance goals. I just try to stay in front and be there to lay it in.
The Devils didn't give up, coming back with a couple of strong shifts that eventually landed them a third man-advantage when McDonagh closed his hand on a puck. For whatever reason, they rank dead last at home despite oodles of talent. Even without Elias, the addition of Foster has added another shooter to a top heavy unit which features Kovalchuk, Parise, Henrique and Clarkson. Pete DeBoer can also roll out reemerging Petr Sykora, Zubrus and Zajac on the second one with improving rookie Adam Larsson, who played well defensively. During the PP, Lundqvist made back-to-back stops, including one he deemed 'lucky' on Henrique, whose shot went through the wickets but wide. Perhaps luck was on the Rangers' side with Gabby's odd goal earlier and Step's pass off Foster to Anisimov.

The PK bent but never broke with two big clears, including a yeoman effort from Dubinsky, who played his best game of the season. However, it was a strong clear by Bickel that led to the Coup de grace. Unable to corral the puck at the left point, Kovalchuk fell leading to a two-on-one. The league's most potent shorthanded team is also the worst at permitting shorthanded goals. Here came Hagelin flying down the wing with Brian Boyle as the decoy. The brilliant Swede whipped a shot past Brodeur's glove for his second shorty before an odd celebration saw him fall down and laugh. It's amazing how poised he is. But remember, he spent four years at Michigan and isn't afraid.  
We had a lot of opportunities, but their guy didn’t allow us to get the second goal,” DeBoer said. “If we got the second goal, we could have taken charge of the game. I thought it was one of our better games, maybe our best 60-minute effort this year.
“We didn’t come out on the right end, but I liked the way we played. Tip the cap to their guy. We have to find a way to solve him because we play them five more times.”

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Marian Gaborik, NYR (2 goals-19 incl. GW for 600th NHL point, assist, +3)
2nd Star-Stepan/Anisimov, NYR (5 Pts: 1-4-5, 7 SOG, +5)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (30 saves for 23rd career win vs NJD)

Notes: Henrik Tallinder sat out for the third consecutive game due to back spasms. ... Elias still is up in the air for Friday versus Washington. ... Larsson will fly home to Sweden for his grandmother's funeral. He'll miss the Devs next two games including next Monday at Carolina. The top line of Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk combined for a dozen of the club's 31 shots. Each were held off the score sheet due to Lundqvist and the D tandem of Dan Girardi and McDonagh. ... Sean Avery sat out a fourth straight game. ... Brodeur turned aside 17 of 20 in his second consecutive start, falling below .500 (8-9-0). ... Rangers host Islanders tomorrow and Flyers Friday.

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