Monday, February 28, 2011

Bolted and Jolted -- Rangers Lose Game and Then Biron | TAM 2 NYR 1

This season's Ranger woes against the top 2 teams in the Eastern Conference continued as the Blueshirts are now winless after 8 contests with the Flyers and Lightning, the first and second seeded teams in the conference.

The Rangers finished their regular season slate with the Tampa Bay Lightning with another excruciating 2-1 loss before a packed, vocal crowd at MSG on a children's day matinee. Official recap is here.

Then, further bad news hit the team as the reliable bugaboo this season -- injuries -- reared its ugly head as the Rangers announced that reliable backup goalie, Marty Biron, was finished for the regular season, at least with a broken collarbone sustained during practice.

To add icing to this not-so-delicious cupcake, Glen Sather revealed that Capt. Chris Drury was likely finished for the season.

Running out of options. The cupboard is looking a little barren
as the Rangers need to replace yet another important contributor.

Meanwhile, at the Garden, the Rangers played another one of their disappointing Sunday games. This loss reminded me of their earlier loss to Ottawa 2-1 when Prust scored the Rangers' only goal -- a shorthanded one -- and the Rangers lost in regulation thanks to a 3rd period goal.

Yesterday, again the Rangers fell behind in the first period, used an excellent move by Prust to score a shorthanded goal to tie the game in the second before the Lightning capitalized on a 5-on-3 power play advantage with 17:20 remaining in the game.

Unlike the Ottawa game, the Rangers did compete well with a quality team and were close to tying it up on several occasions. The true difference between the teams yesterday was the 2 man advantage the Lightning exploited early in the 3rd period to score the winning goal.

Finishing touch. Brandon Prust moved up ice with surprising speed and moves to totally undress Marc Andre Bergeron at the blue line before breaking in alone on Dwayne Roloson to tie the game. It was the Rangers' 10th shorthanded goal of the season. Tampa Bay has yielded 11.

The Lightning started off quickly and took a 1-0 lead with less than 6 minutes gone when St. Louis threaded the needle between Lundqvist's pads. Then they clamped down on the Rangers offense holding them to 4 shots in the first period.

Despite playing an uneven game, the Lightning showed why they are 2nd in the conference. They have legitimate three scorers -- Steve Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent LeCavalier -- that are powerful offensive presences on the ice and do not miss many opportunities. While holding Stamkos shotless, St. Louis and Lecavalier scored the Tampa goals.

Bryan McCabe made his Ranger debut and showed that he knows how to QB a power play.
Too bad, his teammates were out of position or could not convert several opportunities.

The futility of the Rangers offense is patently obvious when you consider the Rangers had 3 power play opportunities during the period. The Lightning were extremely effective in stacking the blue line and only during the latter part of the 3rd power play did the Rangers realize that dumping and chasing was the only entryway available into the Tampa zone.

Unfortunately, when there, the Rangers failed to hit the net, or missed open nets, or were muscled off the puck. I stopped counting at 5 the number of times I saw Artem Anisimov get plopped on his ass while the Ranger were trying to execute in the offensive zone. We'll ignore his inability to score from the slot for now.

His linemate, Brandon Dubinsky, did not fare much better -- his growing inability to find the net has grown along with his being tagged for journeys into the penalty box. Dubinsky's stats over the past 7 games are not pretty: 12 shots, 2 assists and 14 penalty minutes.

Still, the Rangers kept themselves in the game and as the game progressed, they routinely set up some beautiful chances but were denied by their own ability to finish what they created.

After the Rangers missed cashing in on the first period power play chances, the refs called 6 straight minors against them. The Rangers effectively shut down Tampa Bay for the first 3 and even scored on one of them.

However, the game winning goal came from a 2 man advantage that Tampa Bay exploited on penalties called on Dan Girardi for boarding (highly questionable) and an unfortunate delay of game penalty on Brian Boyle for lifting the puck over the glass. My heart sank as I watched the puck float so slowly out of play.

That led to Tampa using some slick passing in the offensive zone that freed up Lecavalier to fire a laser that beat Henrik Lundqvist stick side into the far side of the goal. The play happened quickly and without hesitation -- a far cry from the Rangers' 5-on-3 power play attempts that we have seen during the season.

The Rangers, to their credit, picked up the pace after the first period and ultimately out-shot the Lightning for the game (23-19). After pulling Henrik off the ice with 93 seconds to go, they won several consecutive faceoffs in the offensive zone and pressured Tampa Bay for the equalizer. They got close, did not wilt but could not convert. Considering the quality of the competition, there is nothing to be ashamed of, but the Rangers 0-8 regular season record against Philly and Tampa Bay is not inspiring.

Rainy days on Mondays. . . Out for the season:
Competent backup goalie, Marty Biron, and the Captain, Chris Drury.

Next up is Buffalo on Tuesday night. The Sabres have 65 points, trail Carolina by 2 points for the 8th slot in the East and trail the Rangers by 5 points.

--- The Graying Mantis

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