Friday, December 3, 2010

Breaking Serve - Rangers Prevail 6-5 | NYR 6 NYI 5

It's an old saw that when certain teams meet, you can throw out the teams' current records because the past washes away the present.

Such is the relationship between the Islanders and Rangers since the time the Isles first eliminated the Rangers from the playoffs on J.P. Parise's infamous OT goal in April 1975. For more than 35 years, the two teams have battled to the utter delight or dismay of their respective fan bases.

So far, this season has been no different. After 2 games at the Nassau Coliseum, there have been 21 goals scored in a pair of tennis matches now tied at one set apiece, 4-6, 6-5 after the Rangers' victory last night.

58 shots on goal led to 11 goals, a nearly 20% accuracy, worthy of near marksman status. Defensive coverage was pretty much an afterthought for the entire game. Goaltending was superfluous as I cannot recall one noteworthy save by any of the 3 goalies -- Marty Biron and Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers or Rick DiPietro for the Islanders.

If I had slapped my television to make it snowy or banged my head against the wall or slipped into a time machine, I could have convinced myself I was watching an old 1980s contest between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames with end-to-end passing, skating, hitting, frequent scoring, some fights and only 3 powerplays. Not quite the level of the WHA but getting close.

Launch, light, repeat. 8 shots - 3 goals for Gaborik.
The Rangers utterly dominated the first period and had an early 2-0 lead. The domination ended swiftly as an old bugaboo appeared when the Rangers yielded a goal in the final 40 seconds of the period.

Given the history of these contests, I doubt anyone was surprised when the Isles came back from a first period 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead midway through the 2nd period. But the Rangers countered to take a 5-3 lead in the 3rd period and then scored the game winner within 25 seconds of the Isles tying the score at 5. The official recap is here.

So much happened in this game, I don't have enough words to describe it and the short turnaround time from the conclusion of last night's game to a workday to a new game makes the effort a Sisyphean task. Perhaps when the schedule finally settles down, as I wrote the other day, we can assess what has been going on recently.

Time to party. Sean Avery brought his A-List game last night.
The noteworthy talking point of the game was the elevation of Sean Avery to the first line with Marian Gaborik and Eric Christensen. Coach Tortorella urged Avery to be his abrasive self and not to worry about being a playmaker.

Avery decided to define the term playmaker in a way that the Coach was probably not thinking of. From the opening whistle, he led that on a tear all over the ice wreaking havoc, annoying the opposition, laying waste to the Isles defense and making DiPietro look pedestrian at best.

When the carnage was complete, the line had 11 shots on goal and 9 points led by Gaborik with 4 points (a hat trick and an assist), Avery with 3 assists, and Christenensen had a goal and assist. To say that the line was electrifying would be to understate what we saw on the ice. Meanwhile, despite the 4 goals from the first line, the Rangers needed Brandon Prust and Ryan Callahan to chip in goals as well to provide the winning margin.

The defense left Marty Biron exposed and he could not fight back which led to a game similar to a couple we saw during preseason where he gave up goals in bunches. Inserting Lundqvist in relief more than 30 minutes into the game got the temporary attention of the Rangers as they shut down the Isles for several minutes to enable the squad to rebound from turning a 2-0 lead into a 3-2 deficit back into a 4-3 lead heading into the third period.

The Callahan/Dubinsky/Stepan line had a terrible game defensively as each player ended up in serious negative territory by the end of the game. Still, the team had a first line which never lost energy and was unstoppable at least for this night.

Cleanup on Isle 3. Finally, the Ice Girls got to do something useful.
Gaborik got his 2nd hat trick of the season and the Rangers' third. The team may have already surpassed expectations about the number of hat tricks it would have this season.

Besides grabbing 2 points and improving their sterling road record to 10-4, the Rangers are putting some distance between themselves and other teams in the early playoff hunt. The best part is that they play again tonight, this time at MSG.

--- The Graying Mantis

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