Saturday, January 17, 2009

"C"oming Out Party in Chi-town

What to say about Friday's game? How about -- too bad if you missed it. Perhaps one of the most entertaining games in some time. NYR 3, Hawks 2 OT

The Rangers arrived with their fathers along (it's father's weekend for the team) to face the feel-good story of the NHL this season -- the rising Blackhawks in the Windy City. The Blackhawks are a top team in the Western Conference, led by their rising young stars, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, and lead the league in attendance. More than 22,600 were on hand to support them against the Blueshirts. Goalkeepers' NYR Lundqvist (23-12-3) and Hawk's Nikolai Khabibulin (13-2) started.

What the fans witnessed either live or on t.v. (but not in HD) were the efforts of Captain Chris Drury who demonstrated why on this night he is the captain. His overall skating was tremendous. His work on the penalty kills was magnificent (and he got a lot of work in), his 2 powerplay goals were wonderful -- a laser shot in the 2nd and a deflection in OT. He skated for 19:52 and was awarded the first star but made a strong case for having a star named for him.

In the face of a hostile environment, the Rangers came to play and nearly every player brought their "A" game. A for attitude, that is. Lots of hitting came from the Rangers. Dan Girardi (my personal favorite, I wear his jersey) threw his body around like he was auditioning for The Wrestler. But it had its consequences. He pummeled Dustin Byfuglien late in the first period and clobbered Kris Versteeg in the second. After that one, Cam Barker took exception to the checks being delivered by Girardi and attacked the usually peaceful Girardi (who does not play dirty) and body slammed him headfirst into the ice after a brief but energetic fight. Dan did not return and you get the feeling he will be out for a while if he has a concussion. Barker received 17 penalty minutes for his efforts.

Early on, it looked like the refs wanted to call penalties to get control of the game. Still, the first period was pretty even with the Rangers skating well (especially Gomez) and some nice chances were not converted. The Blackhawks scored late in the first period on a deflection by Jonathan Toews that hit the crossbar and dropped in behind Henrik.

In the second period, it looked like the refs wanted to tilt the ice to the home team. Staal said some magic words to the refs after Roszival was penalized and drew a 10 minute misconduct. So the Rangers were down to 3 defensemen (with Girardi hurt) for a sizable portion of the 2nd period. During the 2nd period, the Rangers defended for 4:15 being down 2 men five separate times (and down 2 defensemen for a good portion of the time). The Blackhawks did not score, much to the vocal dismay of their fans. The penalty killing led by Drury, the skating of Gomez, the backstopping by Lundqvist and work of all the defensemen (with kudos to Redden and Kalinin) were simply fantastic. Unbelievably, only the Rangers scored in the 2nd period thanks to Drury's pinpoint laser beam of a shot during a Rangers powerplay, the Rangers scored the only maker in the 2nd period and the game was tied 1-1.

During the game, the Rangers mustered only 22 shots v. Chicago's 34 -- in the third period, the Rangers made their first one almost last. The Korpedo led a rush from the left side and broke free for a nice shot that was stopped by Khabibulin but Dubi was there to knock in the rebound for a 2 -1 lead.

The defense had succeeded all night long especially in the face of penalty kills by clearing slots, giving Henrik clear views, deflecting numerous passes during penalty kills and clearing the puck regularly (Mara, Roszival and Redden had more than 25 minutes of ice time). Henrik was particularly aggressive at times (no stickhandling fortunately) but he came out to the top of the crease on one sequence to block a shot and then retreated to the goal line to guard the post. Recently, it seemed he had been hiding at or behind the goal line. The Blackhawks were shut down for nearly the entire game. The question became whether the Rangers would have the legs to last.

Unfortunately, the Rangers were called for a 4 minute minor (Rozsival high-stick) and then a 2 minute slash on Callahan -- both questionable calls -- with less than 7 minutes to go. So the Rangers had to face a lengthy 5 on 3 starting with 6 minutes to go. The Blackhawks tied the score on some nice passing leading to a Brent Seabrook slapshot from the left point that eluded Henrik's right foot into the corner of the net.

Instead of a letdown, the goal ignited the Rangers led by of all people, Coach Renney. After the recent home loss to Montreal (a game that turned on 2 PP goals for the Habs early in the 3rd), Coach Renney told the press that perhaps he shouldn't be so gentlemanly to the refs during games. During the Blackhawk game, you saw his mild demeanor turn into something less placid. After the game-tying goal (the result of a 2 man advantage), the camera was trained on Renney marching over to the team's gate by the penalty box, throwing it open and delivering a diatribe of the type that he is rumored to give his players behind closed doors after lackluster play. I thought he was going to march out on the ice like Lou Piniella and throw sticks or overturn the goals.

The Blackhawks still had the man advantage but Renney's anger may have influenced the refs because Brian Campbell was called for a penalty after tackling two Rangers in the offensive zone. That penalty negated the remainder of the Chicago powerplay. That turned out to be a bad mistake as the game went into overtime.

In the overtime, Andrew Ladd drew a slashing penalty. The Rangers passed the puck smartly and Drury batted in (a skill honed in his Little League days) a nice shot form the point by Redden for the game-winner about halfway into the overtime.

In the home stretch of the road trip, the Rangers easily could have been excused for losing this game -- they were playing an inspired team in front of a full house. Referee calls were curious (some would say outrageously in favor of the home team), and you can accept a bad game after several stellar efforts.

Instead, led by their captain, the team displayed character, grit, perseverance and guts that we have come to associate with the team during this campaign. The PK unit successfully defended 10 out of 11 Blackhawk powerplays. They successfully defended 5 out of 6 (yes, 6) Chicago 5-on-3 advantages, totaling nearly 7 minutes. Only late in the game, did they finally succumb - but they at least had the lead so instead of a heartbreaking loss, the teams went to overtime. And for another game, the powerplay scored for the 2nd straight game, 2 PPG including the game winner.

I have to admit that after the game finished (I was watching it at the food bar at my local pizzeria), I was exhilarated because of how the Rangers played. To be honest, for this one game on a Friday night on a freezing cold day, I could not find much, if anything, to criticize -- their overall effort was that good. So now it's on to Pittsburgh for a Sunday noontime game. The Rangers have collected 7 out of an 8 possible points on the road trip and remain in first place. Right now, I have nothing to complain about other than the weather.

- Tony


  1. what's this? No talk of an anti-Rangers conspiracy on behalf of the officials? I'm disappointed in you...

  2. If Sid Crosby is the poster child for the NHL, then the Chicago Blackhawks are definitely the team-poster-child for the NHL this season. With Dollar Bill gone, televised games to the public and two top draft picks delivering in their second season, and the comeback of an Original Six team, it's no wonder the refs behaved the way they did last night against our Rangers.

    Scotty...I agree.

    Blue...don't be disappointed because our boys in Blue played a tremendous game despite THE GREATEST CONSPIRACY WE'VE SEEN THIS SEASON SO FAR -- the refs last night were atrocious. Mind you, I only caught the last period live, and re-looked at the first and second highlights....

    Wow. I know there is always a NY bias against NY teams, but some of the calls that stuck last night were unprofessional. You could almost see Gary Bettman on the phone with the refs head-mikes calling the shots.

    How'd I do, Blue?

    Great take on the game, Blue.



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