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Sunday, December 20, 2009

NY Times Article (2009)

Lundqvist Helps Rangers Win Second in a Row

Published: December 19, 2009

PHILADELPHIA — There is no telling where the Rangers would be this season without Henrik Lundqvist. That point was driven home yet again on a snowy Saturday afternoon as Lundqvist withstood another third-period barrage and preserved a 2-1 victory for the struggling Rangers at the expense of the equally struggling Flyers.

It was not pretty, but it was the second straight win for the Rangers, the first time they had consecutive victories since Nov. 25, and their first back-to-back regulation wins since October.

“I’ll take 2 points, no matter how we look,” said Chris Drury, who scored the Rangers’ first goal.

The afternoon was an apt distillation of the Rangers’ season so far. They entered the last period ahead, 2-1, on Artem Anisimov’s second-period goal after being outshot by 21-19.

But the Flyers overwhelmed them in the third, outshooting the Rangers by 16-5. Lundqvist held them off, successfully preventing a loss that might have touched off another tirade from Coach John Tortorella.

Instead, Tortorella seemed relieved. “We were on our heels a little bit in the third,” he said. “Henrik was outstanding. We’re struggling a bit in our end zone right now. We just need Hank to be Hank as we grow as a hockey team.”

The game was played at the Wachovia Center, which despite an announced attendance of 19,637 was only about one-fifth full because of a snowstorm. One spectator, Rangers General Manager Glen Sather, did not make it to the arena until late in the second period.

The Rangers have been rattled lately by turmoil: a slow tumble down the Eastern Conference standings; Tortorella’s scratching the highly paid defenseman Wade Redden for two straight games; Redden’s expression of anger over being scratched; and talk-radio rumors of the possibility of Sather’s being fired.

There are signs, however, that Redden could return to the lineup as early as Monday at Carolina because the Rangers sent defensemen Bobby Sanguinetti and Ilkka Heikkinen to the Hartford Wolfpack of the American Hockey League.

Tortorella’s recent statements seem to betray a scattershot approach that resembles his constant shuffling and reshuffling of lines during games.

On Thursday and Friday, he said that he would sit any veteran who was not performing well. “We’ll go through some bumps in the road with kids, but not with underachieving veterans,” he said. Yet on Dec. 10, Tortorella and Sather sent the rookie defenseman Matt Gilroy to the Wolfpack.

On Saturday, Tortorella had Drury, the captain, on the fourth line, the first line, and at center, right wing and left wing.

“Whatever he says, I’ll go out and try to do my best,” Drury said, referring to Tortorella. “He asked me on the bench if I can play wing. I said, ‘Yeah, I can play wing.’ ”

Drury’s goal was his fifth of the season and his second in two games after he had not scored since Oct. 17.

That date marked the last of seven straight wins by the Rangers, which raised expectations that the team might finish among the N.H.L.’s elite.

Drury’s goal was set up by a nice shift from Sean Avery, who has often looked like the Rangers’ best skater as they have fallen in the standings. Avery created havoc in the Flyers’ zone, forcing an errant pass that Drury intercepted, then fired home. It helped that Avery got away with a cross-check that flattened the Flyers’ Claude Giroux right next to Drury.

“The last month or so I’ve tried to initiate the forecheck and set an example,” Avery said. “Hopefully it’s contagious with guys.”

But like the rest of the Rangers, Avery has had a lot of trouble finishing. The sole exception has been Marian Gaborik, whose 24 goals led the N.H.L. entering Saturday’s games and who had accounted for a quarter of the Rangers’ output.

Gaborik has been left alone to play his game alongside Vinny Prospal for most of the season. But in a few recent games, Tortorella demoted Prospal to a lower line.

Tortorella denied that the move was punitive, but it was another example of the constant ferment that may be working against the consistency Tortorella is seeking in his players’ performance.

In the meantime, there is Lundqvist. He was aided in part by the Flyers’ own ineptitude — they flubbed two four-on-two breaks because of a penchant for making drop passes — but in the end Lundqvist prevailed.

“The emotions we have should almost be a little bit angry,” Lundqvist said, referring to where the Rangers are now in the Eastern standings. “We’re in the last five. We shouldn’t be here.”

Asked about the third-period barrage, he said: “What can I say? Of course they’re going to come hard, so it’s tougher for us to stand up. As long as we win, I don’t really care how it looks.”

The Rangers’ hopes will center on Lundqvist. Tortorella said he did not foresee giving him a break until January. Lundqvist said he could handle the workload.

“Right now I’m just so focused on trying to help the team turn this around, I don’t even think if I’m tired or not,” he said. “I just want to play.”

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