It may have taken over 65 minutes of hockey before the first goal was scored in this game, but it was by far the best paced contest the New York Rangers have played in all season long. Everyone knew coming in that it would be close and that the two all-star netminders would be the highlight players, but I do not think anyone would have predicted 96 shots would have been sent on goal between the two teams, or that both goalies would reach season-high save totals. It may go down in the score sheet as a shutout for both goalies, but I know Henrik Lundqvist will not see it that way unless he made that last save on Elias in the shootout.
To open the game, I felt the Blueshirts were dominant on the forecheck and were battling very hard. Tortorella was rotating all four lines in that first period, and quite honestly, the fourth trio was one of the better in the offensive zone. There was only a total of nine faceoffs through the first twenty minutes, just to prove the back and forth action of the game. Both goaltenders made some spectacular stops on great opportunities, but the score would be tied heading into the second.
It was more of the same in the second, but this time around, the overall quality of chances was a bit better. For instance, Brian Boyle's breakaway sticks out in my head as probably the best chance for the Rangers, not only in that period, but in the entire game. Michal Rozsival made a magnificent headman pass to spring Boyle, who tried to snap one through the five-hole of Brodeur but the door was shut and the game remained scoreless. Lundqvist faced some of his own with some tricky shots from New Jersey star Zach Parise as well as Captain Jamie Langenbrunner. The period saw a total of 30 shots on goal and numerous powerplay opportunities, but yet again, no one was able to hit the twine.
The third period was when the gates really opened up and every time a player made a move toward the net, the Garden faithful held their breath in anticipation of what would come of it. This was the only stretch of the tilt that I thought the Devils had control offensively, outshooting New York 19-14. I also believe that this was when Henrik Lundqvist had to stand on his head. We have seen it many times over the course of the season; the Rangers defense gets careless towards the end of a game and Henrik is left bailing them out. Luckily, more often than not, he gets the job done. However, the Blueshirts did find ways to counter-attack with shots of their own.
To overtime we went, thinking a hero would emerge in the next five minutes. Well, Marian Gaborik was inches away from being that hero when he sent a wrister on goal which Brodeur originally had trouble with, but it was Marian's rebound that slid across the goal line, hit the post, and just laid there waiting to be put in. Realizing that they had just almost lost the game, the Devils took the puck back up ice and bombarded Lundqvist with about three straight shots. Hank was there again, and would eventually send this thing to a shootout.
Last season, it was almost guaranteed that the Rangers would come away with the full two points when entering the shootout, but that has not been the case this year as Tortorella's selected shooters have had trouble scoring. That was the exact problem on this night, as Erik Christensen simply lost control of the puck and Gaborik, Kotalik, as and Dubinsky were all denied. Lundqvist was putting on quite a show down on his end as well, until Patrick Elias (will this guy ever go away?) came in and put one past the glove of Henrik to give New Jersey a 2-1 edge in the season series, as well as a tally in the win column.
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Henrik Lundqvist, as he has been for about eight straight weeks now, was phenomenal. The Swedish puck-stopper made a season-high 45 saves in the tilt and gave the Devils no room whatsoever. This reminded me much of the game against the Atlanta Thrashers where back-up goalie Chad Johnson was stellar in his first National Hockey League start, but the offense was not able to get him the victory. Similar story here tonight as I felt the defense, despite allowing 45 shots, played a fairly solid game.
Ed Olczyk made a great point during the first intermission by saying that the Rangers were doing a good job of not clogging the middle, but closing up the lanes along the boards. The Devils build their game off of transitions out of their own end, which usually results in the puck possessor carrying wide or dumping and chasing. New York did not give them either of those options so the boys from Newark were forced to go up the middle where the Rangers did a dandy job of blocking shots. This right here is what teams have scouts and tapes for.
Vinny Prospal was effective in his first game back after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery just about two weeks ago. Prospal was making his usual dishes to his mates, and signs of the chemistry between the 34-year-old winger and Marian Gaborik of coming back were there. Vinny finished the night with one shot in 19:34 of ice time.
Among other forwards who stood out, Dubinsky and Christensen played very well, in addition to Ryan Callahan who was hounding the Devil defenders when in on the forecheck. Brian Boyle led the fourth line to some great opportunities as well. I mean, there may not have been much, or any for that matter, scoring in this game from the Rangers, but their battle level on the forecheck was amazing.
So the Blueshirts are now 8-1-4 in their last thirteen games and have collected points in seven straight. You have to give credit to Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey defense for their tremendous effort in this one. They keyed in on Gaborik and did the best they could to shut him down. Yes, you can say the Rangers continue to struggle to score goals, but with the way Marty played in net tonight, I am not sure if anyone would be able to beat him. The Rangers next game will be on Thursday when they host the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden.