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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lundqvist's heroics not enough to stop Habs at MSG


Henrik Lundqvist turned in a sensational 32-save performance, but had two shots deflect past him, which proved to be the difference as the Rangers fell to the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers had won two in a row before Tuesday’s loss. Montreal has now won six straight, and seven of eight since the Olympic break.

“It felt like this was a game where we didn’t play our best, but we still had a chance to win,” said Lundqvist. “That is how you get back in the (playoff) race, but unfortunately we couldn’t get the last touch there in the third to get the game-winner.”

The Canadiens snapped a 1-1 tie and grabbed the lead at 5:59 of the third period on a broken play in front in which the puck skittered past Lundqvist after deflecting off a teammate’s skate.

Hard work by Travis Moen and Dominic Moore deep in the Rangers end led to the puck finding the stick of Sergei Kostitsyn at the lower left wing. Kostitsyn chipped a shot towards the crease, and it deflected off Artem Anisimov and over the goal line. It was the second straight goal against Lundqvist that had been deflected past him.

“That’s what happens in this game,” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan. “It seems a lot of goals are being scored that way these days. Maybe we need to take a lesson from this and just start throwing pucks at the net and get guys in front. But those are the bounces sometimes.”

The Rangers were awarded a power play with 8:40 left in the game, but failed to generate any sustained pressure much less score the tying goal, and another in the final minute. Montreal killed off all five Rangers power plays on Tuesday night and iced the game with Tomas Plekanec’s shorthanded goal into an empty net with 36 seconds left to play.

“We weren’t very good at all on the power play,” said Erik Christensen. “Both units just struggled getting control and making plays and getting shots through. I think the guys looked at that as a frustrating part of the game.”

In very similar fashion to Sunday’s 3-1 victory over the Flyers, the Rangers trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes of play, only to have Sean Avery score a big goal early in the second to pull the home team even on the scoreboard.

However, unlike Sunday, the Rangers were unable to score that second goal before the second period was complete, and, as a result, they headed to the third period tied 1-1 with the Canadiens.

“They accomplished what we couldn’t,” Christensen said of the Canadiens.

Montreal drew first blood when Glen Metropolit deflected Andrei Markov’s power-play blast past Lundqvist 3:34 into the first period. The play began with a clean faceoff win in the offensive zone by former Ranger Scott Gomez. Markov then hammered his shot towards the net, and as Lundqvist moved one way, the puck deflected another, and the Rangers trailed early 1-0.

While his teammates struggled to get their collective offensive game going in the opening period, Lundqvist was solid, finishing the period with eight saves.

One Ranger who showed some life late in the opening stanza was Avery, who was coming off an impactful two-goal performance on Sunday. With five minutes to go in the first Avery had a huge shift that nearly led to the tying goal. First he set up Michal Rozsival with a perfect centering pass into the slot, and moments later his snapshot handcuffed Canadiens’ goalie Jaroslav Halak, who made the stop, but saw the puck slip from his grasp and trickle just wide of the cage.

Avery was not to be denied 2:02 into the middle period, however. Setting a screen in front of Halak, Avery was perfectly positioned to tip Matt Gilroy’s right-wing shot off the far post and over the goal line to tie the game, all while being cross-checked to the ice from behind by Montreal defenseman Hal Gill.

Two minutes later Avery drew a high-sticking penalty against Montreal’s Andrei Kostitsyn. Even though the Canadiens killed off the Rangers’ man-advantage, Avery, who also skated on the power play, was once again imposing his will on many facets of the game.

Meanwhile Lundqvist continued his brilliant play at the other end of the ice. Lundqvist stopped all 18 shots he faced in the second period, including a 3-on-1 Montreal rush with 37 seconds left in the period.

While Lundqvist saw 27 shots over the first 40 minutes of play, Halak barely saw any rubber his way, facing only 11 shots. The Rangers repeatedly had shots blocked or did not fire their shots on net, instead hammering open opportunities off the glass or the back boards. Guilty of over passing and victims several times of bouncing pucks, the Rangers continually came close to scoring chances without actually being credited with shots on goal.

“It’s so obvious how we have to play to be successful, but we’re just not consistent with it,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “What we did well against Philly is the opposite of the spectrum tonight.”

Perhaps the most glaring of these plays came at the nine-minute mark of the second period. With the Rangers killing a penalty, Callahan fed a cutting Brandon Dubinsky in the slot with a perfect pass off a 2-on-2 rush. Dubinsky danced around the defenseman and broke in alone on Halak, only to have the puck slide off his stick at the last possible second before shooting.

“One of our main things was to get pucks in deep and behind them, and I don’t think we were too successful with that tonight,” said Callahan. “And when we did we turned it over quite a bit there.”

Now three points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers will gear up for a battle with a Western Conference foe, the St. Louis Blues, on Thursday night at The Garden.

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