Ranger 'D' Cages Sharks, Blueshirts Win, 3-1
by: Joe McDonald | Publisher and Editor-in-Chief | Friday, November 3, 2006

What a difference a couple of games make.

The New York Rangers' goal of six out of eight possible points from this West Coast swing seemed very remote on Tuesday morning after the Blueshirts were pasted by the Kings, 4-1. But an impressive performance on Wednesday in Anaheim gave the team and their fans hope they could accomplish that mark with a win in San Jose.

But the Sharks, led by Hart Trophy winner Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo, wouldn't be easy prey with their 9-5 record. A top performance by the whole Ranger team was needed.

Mission accomplished.

A strong defensive showing by all four lines backing a 29 save effort by Kevin Weekes, starting in goal again, paced the Blueshirts to a 3-1 win at the Shark Tank.

"We have some team unity," coach Tom Renney said to reporters in San Jose. "We have a clear singleness of purpose, it appears to me now. The resiliency, the resolve, the challenge of meeting certain expectations -- it's all important."

To combat the Sharks high flying offense, Renney made his team play a smart defensive game. They blocked 17 shots in front of Weekes, while only giving away the puck 11 times, as opposed to 18 for the Sharks.

"We didn't come game-prepared," Thornton said to reporters. "We got a lot of shots, just not a lot of quality shots. We may have taken them a little lightly, having played last night. It's tough going into the locker room after playing like that."

The Blueshirt defensive style stymied the San Jose offense, but to win the Rangers needed to get their own opportunistic scoring chances.

With only 19 shots on goal, a little luck was needed and it came right at the end of the first. As time dwindled down, Brendan Shanahan, who also had empty net goal later in the game, took the puck away from Thornton and outleted it to Petr Prucha. Because San Jose was playing up with the clock ticking, there were no defensemen in the Shark zone, so Prucha was able to feed Matt Cullen on a breakaway, who beat Evgeni Nabokov to give the Rangers the lead right at the last second of the first.

As they came out in the second, the intensity continued, but Martin Straka was able to convert at 4:08 by putting his own rebound past Nabokov for his seventh goal of the season.

That was all the scoring the Rangers needed, because this team effort saw the Rangers making a number of tough hits, especially from Prucha and Shanahan in the first and then Ryan Hollweg later on. And because of the game the night before, Renney spread out the ice time with the lead with fourth liners Hollweg and Jason Ward getting over 11 minutes of ice time.

It evened the Rangers out and gave them a win that put them over .500 for the first time since October 12.

"These guys and the Ducks, they're not your typical West Coast teams," said Weekes to reporters. "We played some excellent opponents. We're on the same page now. You see everybody sacrificing to get to where we want to be."

And even though Kyle McLaren scored late in the third on a shot from the point Weekes didn't see and wasn't ready for, there was no stopping the Rangers tonight.

Notes: Shanahan's empty netter was his 610 goal of his career, tying the future Hall of Famer with Bobby Hull for 12th place on the all-time list...With 14 points, the Rangers are tied for first in the Atlantic with the Penguins and Islanders, but have played three more games than Pittsburgh and one more than their rivals out east...The Blueshirts now return home for a game against Buffalo on Sunday at 5 p.m., but then go back out on a three game road trip to Florida, Atlanta and Washington.