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Friday, March 26, 2010

Drury, Christensen, Lundqvist star in remarkable win

Should the Rangers qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring, they will undoubtedly look back to Thursday night at the Prudential Center as the moment that served as a true catalyst for their late-season playoff push.

The Blueshirts wiped out three one-goal deficits, the last with 16.8 seconds remaining in regulation, and scored the only goal of the shootout en route to a thrilling 4-3 road victory over the Devils. The victory, coupled with Boston’s loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday, leaves the Rangers only three points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with eight games left on the regular season schedule.

“I thought we fought hard all night long,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “Once (the tying goal) goes in, you get one point, so we’re pretty happy about that. But in the situation we’re in you start thinking about trying to get that second (point), as well. That was a big two points for us.”

Erik Christensen scored the only goal of the shootout and assisted on Chris Drury’s game-tying goal in the closing seconds for the Rangers.

Christensen, the first shooter in the shootout, beat Devils goalie Martin Brodeur to the stick side, though his shot hit off the post. The referee immediately signaled that Christensen had not scored, but the ensuing video replay showed that the puck traveled across the goal line after caroming off the iron.

“After I shot it I swore it hit the post and I thought I saw it hit the twine and come back out quickly, so I was 90 percent sure it was in,” said Christensen. “To come out and play a game like we did tonight where we were down and kept coming back … it’s a night and day feeling of where we were at on Sunday after losing to Boston with all the emphasis on that game.”

Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist made the lone goal stand up by denying Zach Parise and Patrick Elias before Travis Zajac closed out the shootout by missing the net on the final attempt.

“They’ve got some good shooters in that situation, and Hank stood tall there,” Tortorella said of Lundqvist.

With the victory, Lundqvist, who made 35 saves on the night, became the first goalie in NHL history to record 30 wins in each of his first five seasons in the league. He also became the first Rangers’ netminder to win 30 games five consecutive years, breaking a record he had shared with Hall of Famer Ed Giacomin.

“Hank was the reason why we won tonight,” said Christensen. “He was terrific all night.”

Drury’s goal with 16.8 seconds left to play capped a wild third period in which each team scored twice, forcing overtime in the process.

After a timeout -- and with Lundqvist pulled for an extra attacker -- the Rangers controlled the faceoff in the offensive zone. Michael Del Zotto worked the puck in deep behind the Devil’ net where Christensen took possession of it. Christensen then whipped an incredible behind-the-back pass to Drury, and the Rangers’ captain slammed home his 12th goal of the season, likely his biggest of the year, to tie the game 3-3

“I think Del Zotto made a heck of a play,” said Drury. “The big key is getting the puck back behind the net. And it was simply a great pass by Erik.”

Drury’s goal erased the lead New Jersey had grabbed on a goal by Devils’ captain Jamie Langenbrunner with 7:23 remaining in the third period. New Jersey took advantage of a poor line change by the Rangers, taking the puck away by the Rangers bench to start the scoring play, which culminated in Langenbrunner’s booming right-wing slap shot that beat Lundqvist to the stick side.

Rookie center Artem Anisimov had pulled the Rangers even with 10:20 left to play in the third, tying the game 2-2 on a hard-working goal by fourth line. Brandon Prust spun a centering pass to Anisimov on Brodeur’s doorstep while absorbing a hit from a Devils defenseman and after Jody Shelley had pushed the puck into the offensive zone. Anisimov then patiently drifted back to his right as Brodeur fell to the ice, and he roofed his 12th goal of the season -- and second in as many nights -- high into the net.

“They deserved to be out on the ice; they kept their game simple; and they scored a huge goal there for us creating a big momentum swing,” Tortorella said of the fourth line. “They have been doing that now for the last little while. And Artie looks much more comfortable.”

The tying goal came six minutes after Patrick Elias had provided New Jersey with a 2-1 lead at 3:53. Elias one-timed a David Clarkson centering pass past Lundqvist for his 14th goal as the Rangers failed to pick him up between the circles.

After a sluggish first period in which they were outshot 9-4 and exited the ice trailing 1-0, the Rangers rebounded with a very strong second period. Much more aggressive in the neutral zone and on the forecheck, the Rangers sustained much more pressure in the offensive zone over the middle 20 minutes than they had in the initial 20.

As a result the Rangers created a string of scoring chances and headed to the third period even on the scoreboard 1-1.

Ilya Kovalchuk, a whirling dervish all night for the Devils, opened the scoring at 5:21 of the first period. Brian Rolston hammered a high, hard left-wing shot on net that was blockered down by Lundqvist. But Kovalchuk flew past Rangers’ defenseman Wade Redden and deposited the rebound into the back of the cage for his 38th goal to give New Jersey the early lead.

Rangers forward Sean Avery made it a long night for New Jersey's David Clarkson with a series of grating conversations that began during warm-ups and clearly had Clarkson and teammates on edge. Although the Devils continued to control play in all three zones, Lundqvist held them at bay until his teammates found their collective legs. So good was Lundqvist that after one particular sharp glove save at 9:28, Elias was left staring at the heavens in disbelief.

Lundqvist was also a bit lucky. After a breakdown in the defensive zone by the Rangers, New Jersey had a 3-on-1 opportunity that ended when Langenbrunner shoveled a backhand shot wide of the cage.

Off to a much stronger start in the second period, the Rangers pulled even with a power-play goal at 7:32. With Brian Rolston off for interfering with Del Zotto, Brandon Dubinsky fired a shot from the left dot through a Sean Avery screen in front and past Brodeur for his 17th goal of the season.

Two minutes later, Lundqvist assured that the Rangers would remain tied when he made a spectacular save on an Elias shorthanded breakaway. With a clear path to the goal, Elias patiently skated in and tried to beat Lundqvist with a shot to the stick side, but Lundqvist spread his legs as wide as possible and made a sensational right-pad save.

Then at 10:16, an apparent goal by Parise was emphatically waved off by the referee because he swatted the puck into the net with his arm. A video review upheld the on-ice decision, and the game remained tied 1-1.

“We got excellent goaltending and found a way to win a hockey game,” said Tortorella. “Now we’ll take a day off in Toronto and get ready to play against a really fast and aggressive team in Toronto on Saturday.”

That contest the head coach refers to is the Rangers’ next game, Saturday night against the Maple Leafs, as the Blueshirts seek a third consecutive win in their drive for a playoff spot.|NYR|home

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