Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Last Goalie Standing | NYR 3, NJ Devils 0

Like an old-fashioned western duel, two of the best goalies matched up in a game for 2 desperate teams. And one man was left standing when the dust settled -- Henrik Lundqvist, the holder of a 3-0 shut out over the New Jersey Devils. Official recap here.

The Ranger entered the game precariously positioned for a playoff berth after losing 2 straight on the road in Atlanta and Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, since setting the wins record, Brodeur and the Devils had lost 4 in a row, a streak marred by a complete lack of scoring against quality competition.

The Garden atmosphere was electric as fans eagerly anticipated much-awaited rematch between Sean Avery and Marty Brodeur took a back seat to the match-up between two great goalies. If you came to the Garden solely to look for a confrontation between them, forget it except a questionable goalie interference call. If you came expecting a playoff-type tight-checking, low-scoring contest, you were mistaken.

Nearly 80 shots were launched at the 2 netminders by the time final whistle blew. The onslaught began with the opening whistle and continued for nearly the entire night. In a game where defense took the night off, the two faced more than 50 shots in the first half of the game in a fusillade reminiscent of the OK Corral.

During the first 30 minutes, Brodeur absorbed as much rubber as Sonny Corleone absorbed lead.

Whatever the Devils game plan was, permitting Brodeur to face 20 shots in the first period could not have been part of it. Midway through the 2nd period, Brodeur, who was solid but not spectacular, had faced 29 shots and the Rangers had started breaking through.

Despite the lack of Avery/Brodeur theatrics, there was plenty of barroom brawling Sean Avery must have had a bounty on his head as the Devils fell into the Rangers-style trap -- focus on Avery and forget fundamentals like covering men, clearing the puck, blocking shots, the kinds of things a team forgets when it is in a slump.

This game was decided by 3 things all in favor of the Blueshirts --

1. Composure. The chippiness of the Devils (led by Mike Rupp) was disruptive more to the Devils than to the Rangers. Staal, for example, took a beating by two Devils including Rupp before the refs called an end to it and sent Rupp off. Avery, tempted as he was on several occasions, avoided fisticuffs and taking penalties as he hunted by the likes of Mike Rupp persistently, Mike Mottau and David Clarkson. He also showed up the NHL on national television by refusing to fight Clarkson, who hit him and then dragged him around like a rag doll trying to entice him to fight. Avery dropped one glove but thought better of it and never made a move. Still, because he is Sean Avery, he received a minor for roughing. Clarkson received a double minor and directions to the shower courtesy of a game misconduct.

My editorial moment: This treatment of Avery by the refs and league is total nonsense and cowardice by the NHL, plain and simple. I was not in favor of him rejoining the Rangers but I admit I was wrong -- he has brought some spunk and maturity to the team. I am amazed that in the NHL, it's o.k. to have a convicted gambler coaching a team, and players who should be serving life for attempted manslaughter (hello, Todd Bertuzzi) or vehicular manslaughter (care for another drink, Danny Heatley?) continue to be active players, but Avery is being singled out for being the Pete Rose of the NHL because he disrupts teams physically, verbally and mentally. Hello, NHL -- Avery served his time for exercising his freedom of speech. It's over, let him play, he adds character and color to the sport. Based on his recent treatment, I want the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup so I can see Sean parade it around.

"Not tonight, David." Sean Avery feigning interest in Clarkson's attempts to engage.

2. Stellar goaltending. Henrik was brilliant. He made a couple of spectacular glove saves whereas Brodeur got beat to his glove side on a blast from Callahan. Henrik flopped and covered up the puck in mad scrambles, whereas Brodeur was looking at the MSG ceiling while Dubinsky lifted the puck into the top of the net to start the scoring at 4:35 of the 2nd period. Henrik saw numerous deflections and was in proper position on screened shots. Brodeur was lucky that a Gomez blast failed to negotiate the goal line and never saw Girardi's shot go into the net.

3. Opportunistic Goal Scoring. Each of the three Ranger goals came from hard work. Dubinsky, who has picked up his scoring pace, showed Shanahan-type presence (remember game 4 v Buffalo) in waiting to settle the puck before directing it top-shelf to score. The goal was started with a slap shot from the right point by Dan Girardi that Brodeur stretched to kick out, leaving him sprawling on the ice for Dubinsky to exploit.

A few minutes later, the 4th line worked the puck into the Devils zone and kept it there for some time as a 4 on 4 situation began. The Devils' defense, worn out by the Korpikoski and Sjostrom energy, never recovered as new Ranger reinforcements arrived. Girardi used one of his patented on the ice shots to beat Brodeur. Finally, at 15:06, on a beautiful cross-ice pass from Scott Gomez that hit Callahan in stride, Ryan blasted a shot past Brodeur's right high into the net. It was beautiful passing that opened up the defense (admittedly fatigued at this point) and exposed Brodeur. It was nice to see some creative playmaking.

After that, the Rangers went back into a shell and eventually, the Devils surpassed the Rangers in shots on goal. That was a bit troubling, but Henrik preserved the 3 goal margin through the end of the period (and beyond), which was key. No sense of giving a team hope like the Rangers gave Atlanta the other night when a 4-1 lead became 4-2 with 20 seconds to go in the 2nd period.

The MSG crowd roared throughout the game as the Rangers' renewed spirits, the playoff fight and the appearance of old rivals washed away the crowd's recent apathy. Henrik reminded the MSG faithful why he can be called the King as he rebounded strongly after the Pitt game. The crowd reminded the Rangers that it appreciates their energy with a standing ovation that began with the final minute of the game.

For the 4th year in a row, the Rangers have won 40 games in a season. The question is will it be enough to make the playoffs? The Rangers travel to Carolina and Boston for important games for each of the 3 teams. The Bruins are trying to remain atop the East, Carolina is seeking to remain in 4th place, a surprising rise since the trade deadline. The Rangers are just trying to make sure they are in the party -- they don't care where they are sitting. When they play like they did against the Devils, you would take your chances in the playoffs.



  1. I watched the replay this morning, unable to attend the game last night - and WOW, that was one hellava game. Last night was a 'moment of belief' in the Cup -- I did have a visual of the Blueshirts palying against a Western team final ...ah...the dream!!? The level of play is inspiring and the obvious change in their attitude is inspiring when they play well; already a number of NHL beat writers are predicting the up&down Rangers in the finals -- I won't go there as of yet -- but if they play like last night this point forward there is hope.

    Tony...the Corleone picture and comment had me in stitches...when I saw the stats for the Rangers' shots alone in the first period, I thought I was reading a misprint. Unbelievable - and inspiring.

    Every game left this season is an important one and we need the points, but our playoff picture is looking slightly better than yesterday --- we're almost there - 3 out of 5 wins and it's a shoe-in.

    Good post...looking forward to good news come Friday morning.


  2. Tony, The Rangers were solid against the Devils. They skated well, moved the puck and played a decent physical game.

    Nice to see the "Kids" pick up the offense for the Rangers and Lundqvist was stellar in net.

    I was in attendance for the game and it was comical to watch how Sean Avery had just about the whole Devils roster looking to end his season. It was hilarious.

    Big win, Sets up for a good one in Carolina.

  3. I linked to this on my blog - good recap Tony

  4. After last night's debacle, it is clear we are the 3rd Period Bad News Bears...the good news is from this point forward if the Rangers go 2-2 and Florida goes 3-2, Rangers are in....



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