Friday, December 17, 2010

AARP Can Wait --30-Something Club -- Drury, Roszival and Biron -- Leads Blueshirt Comeback | NYR 4 PHO 3 (SHO)

Being a fan of any sports team requires an investment of time, emotion, energy, money, and sometimes sacrifice. Like for me last night. A long week was weighing me down -- attending the Caps game on Sunday night, a succession of long hours at work (including watching the Pens game at my work computer), sloughing off the effects of a car collision from the day before and basking in the afterglow of singing at an office party (don't ask and I won't tell). Two friends had bailed on Thursday's Coyotes game because of their own holiday party engagements so I scrambled to fill my 4 seats.

When Thursday afternoon rolled around, I was losing my resolve. But I had also invited a friend I had not seen for 15 years to attend the game. He started texting me to check my ETA at MSG. Needless to say, I was running late.

I dragged myself into my car -- engine and gears moving slowly, so was my car. Then came the pivotal text: "I intend to pay you face value for the ticket and buy you drinks." That kind of encouragement transformed my old Subaru into the Mach V along the LIE.

Arriving at MSG, I read his next text -- Rangers down 2-0; goalie looking soft -- we NEED you. Visions of last year's Toronto and Philly 6-0 whitewashings danced in my head -- I had arrived for both games with the Rangers trailing 2-0 early. No turning back now. I entered where the MSG security does its TSA imitation just in time to see Dan Girardi score a power play goal to cut the lead in half.

I ended up being thrilled to have made attended -- more than 17,500 showed up as well. Again the team showed a resiliency and resolve that was sorely lacking in other teams -- the Rangers came back from a 2-0 and 3-1 deficit, sparked in large part by another short-handed goal late in the 2nd period by Brandon Prust.

The third period belonged to the oldsters -- Chris Drury, Michal Roszival and Marty Biron with a large contribution by the youngest, Derek Stepan. Thanks to key defensive plays by Roszy, solid goaltending by Marty, and faceoff wins and a 3 man rush to the net led by Drury, the Rangers rode the backs of their elders to a scintillating 4-3 shootout win over the Coyotes. The Rangers are now 9-0 on the back end of back-to-back games. Official recap is here.

Both teams had played the night before. But the Coyotes started fast grabbing a 2-0 lead within the first 5:53 (goals by Taylor Pyatt and Adrian Aucoin). Marty Biron was shaky and the Rangers looked flat. But, the Rangers settled down and exploited a PP opportunity when Dan Girardi wristed a shot past former Ranger/Wolfpack goalie, Jason LaBarbera, during a power play with 7:53 remaining to make the lead 2-1. The Rangers actually had as many shots for the period (10) as Phoenix.

Interestingly, as the game progressed, the level of energy picked up and the game got more and more exciting despite the fact both teams played the night before. The Rangers continued their recent trend of aggressively pushing forward , making some wonderful plays, creating some nifty odd-man rushes that were foiled either by some aggressive stick-checking by the Coyote defense, some nice saves by LaBarbera or some over-passing (Dubi had a great opportunity on a 3-on-1 before making an ill-advised pass to Marian Gaborik instead of shootign).

My Man Love Temp is Rising. The "throw-in" in
the Jokinen deal may be the steal of the year. How good
is Brandon Prust? 5 goals (3 SHG) so far. I'm seriously
thinking of getting a new sweater. Meanwhile, former
Ranger Derek Morris can only watch the celebration.

Unfortunately, despite peppering Labarbera with quality shots, they could not dent him in the 2nd period before the Coyotes took advantage a penalty on Brian Boyle at the 9 minute mark. Within 41 seconds, Phoenix pounced as they rushed the net leaving a bizarre scene of Biron way out of his position on his left, Ranger players sprawled all over the ice and Martin Hanzal with an open net to shoot at. The crowd was deflated as the Rangers were again down by 2.

But then the Rangers defense and goaltending tightened up. After looking shaky, Marty Biron kept the Coyotes scoreless over the final 35 minutes of the game and in the shootout.

He also gave a clinic on deflecting pucks with his pads and sticks to safety. The Coyotes had few rebound chances and Biron kept the puck in play forcing Phoenix to continually expend energy to cover Ranger breakouts

Then, proving that perhaps a special season may be developing, the Rangers got back into the game, thanks to their special teams and their leader -- Brandon Prust. The Blueshirts were in the midst of killing a penalty as the period wound down. Originally, they had a power play but thanks to a screw-up, Brandon Dubinsky had to slash a stick of a Coyote to prevent an attempted short-handed breakaway.

Scoreless for 35. The Rangers tightened up their defense and did
not allow Phoenix to get what would have been a killer 4th goal.

While that penalty was winding down, Dan Girardi cleared the puck down into the Phoenix zone and LaBarbera terribly mishandled the puck, intimidated in large part by an onrushing Brandon Prust into the corner.

Prust stole the puck and swung around LaBarbera who was scrambling back to the crease. Prust beat him there and potted his 2nd short-handed goal (3rd SHG of the season) of the past couple of weeks. 5.1 seconds remained in the period. This sequence resembled so many botched late-period adventures of recent Ranger teams that fans were shocked to see it could happen to another team.

In the third period, the teams exchanged rushes back and forth -- the Rangers looking for the equalizer and the Coyotes looking for a cushion.

Michal Roszival turned in some sparkling defensive plays including an open ice hip check of Scottie Upshall and then breaking up a 2-on-1 rush with the score at 3-2 by staying with his man and using his stick to deflect a pass to a Coyote that was rushing unimpeded toward Biron. He later was instrumental on the tying goal.

Upshall Upended. Roszival with the 1st of 2 defensive
gems. This one was a beautiful open ice training film quality
hip check disrupting a Phoenix rush. Later, Roszy broke
up a scoring opportunity with textbook positioning on a 2-on-1.

The pace was so quick and the game so exciting that the 3rd period flew by. When only 6 minutes remained, it appeared like the recent Ottawa game that the Rangers would fail again on home ice. But then the Rangers pushed forward once again.

Chris Drury's energy level noticeably picked up during the game as he started skating with quickness, winning key faceoffs and moving his body to keep the puck in the zone. (In comparison. what was worrisome is that Marian Gaborik seemed a step slow all night long -- he had a couple of good plays but something seemed wrong. Perhaps the flu or a tight groin?)

Channeling what we used to see when he wore a Sabres jersey, Drury initiated the late game tying goal by winning a faceoff to Roszival at the left point. His shot gave LaBrera fits. LaBrera stopped Roszival's attempt and then stoned Drury on a putback but Derek Stepan (who with Sean Avery surged toward the net) swooped in to put the puck behind LaBrera to tie the score with 5:13 to go. Demonstrating once again that good things can happen when the puck is shot at the net.

By now, the MSG crowd had found its voice with some raucous LGR chants, the players on both squads found another wind and the teams went back and forth with the intensity and quality of a playoff game -- end to end action, great saves, near misses on passes and shots -- the pace left the MSG crowd breathless and appreciative. Grabbing a point as time expired was definitely a victory especially in light of the 2 huge victories during the week.

Overtime was just as exciting. When there was a break with 2:30 remaining, I was shocked there was so much time left and exhausted from the highs and lows as the teams proved how evenly matched they were in shots and goals after 65 minutes of play. The teams played to the end like neither team wanted to play the shootout.

In the shootout, Erik Christensen went first and he burst from the center circle like he was chasing his car being towed and weaved from right to left and simply beat LaBrera with a beautiful shot. Biron made it stand up as he stopped two legitimate attempts before Eric Belanger lost the puck off his stick on the team's final try.

EC Find Net. Christensen should give lessons on converting shootouts.

I pay attention to the top 3 stars but rarely quibble. Prust and Christensen were 2 and 3. I had no problem with that. Girardi got the first star thanks to his goal to make it 2-1 and his assist on Prust's shorthanded goal. I think the writers picked the wrong defenseman. Michal Roszival was my choice for this game as he perhaps singlehandly kept the Rangers in the game during the 3rd period. So even though I have a #5 sweater, I would have given my vote to #33.

So the Rangers head into a showdown with the Eastern Conference leading Flyers tomorrow at 1 p.m. So far the Rangers have clocked the two Winter Classic participants and perhaps will make a national HBO audience watching 24/7 wonder why the Rangers are playing instead of Washington and Pittsburgh on News Year's Day. I can dream.

The team is not being taken seriously by the rest of the league -- they are getting the Butch & Sundance treatment of "Who are those guys?" I watched the Pens feed the other night -- other than praising Henrik, the announcers could not identify anyone on the team with talent.

The fans are coming around; you could feel it at MSG last night for a non-conference foe from a small market. Just like Knick fans are starting to sense something fun is building.

MSG has been touting its transformation of the Garden. I have a suggestion -- put out a great product and people will flock to the joint. Both winter sports tenants have been transformed and MSG has a life again.

Ranger fans wanted to see youth -- they are here in spades and making an impact, positive and negative. They will make mistakes. There will be growing pains. Deal with them. Stop complaining. The vets are having fun and this season has the makings of one of the more fun teams and experiences we have had in years.

---The Graying Mantis

p.s.: I refused the offer of money from my friend and we ended up spending a lengthy evening catching up and renewing our friendship. He also told me a tale about how he managed to see Game 7 of the 1994 Finals on a whim and without a ticket. That's a story for another post.


  1. Notice how this team is positioning itself to be a Cup contender right as the renovation is due to finish up?

  2. Scotty -- Interesting observation. You can extend that thought to the Knicks as well.

    As I doubt I can afford playoff tickets, Ranger success may be painful if you know what I mean.

  3. Hey Dark Ranger, be careful who you want to induct into AARP. Over 30? Hell, I'm over thirty a few times and are quite particular who comes into my club.

    Regarding your friend Fran Pizzani, the prayers of my wife and I are with him. Also I will put his name in our church bulletin, OLL, West Islip Islip, pray group. God Bless you Fran.

  4. I've been saying that over and over, Scotty. "Licensing fees". Look out. Hilarious, as if they could actually plan this surge. Maybe Bettman and Dolan are better than we think...

    Thanks Pundit for the well wishes. This afternoon Sean Avery wrote to Fran and his family went absolutely crazy. Bad-ass on the ice. Great guy off.

    And you Tony V...great observations and post, a great partner and thanks for everything guys --- including all the amazing supporters the previous post. I am so incredibly touched by all of this stuff.

    Tomorrow could be the moment...1pm.



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