NEW YORK – The New York Rangers rode stellar special teams play to beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night and head into the All-Star break in first place in the Atlantic Division. All four Rangers goals came from special teams units, with the eventual game winner scored by Scott Gomez on a third period powerplay.
“It is a great feeling to come back after a couple of road games to get a good solid win, going into the break,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers sole All Star had another stellar night, stopping 32 of 34 shots he faced, his 13th 30-plus save performance of the season.
Markus Naslund opened the scoring for the home team on a powerplay goal halfway through the first period. It didn’t take Anaheim long to react, taking advantage of their own powerplay to tie the game less than a minute later. Samuel Pahlsson took two whacks at a loose puck in front of the Rangers goal before Bobby Ryan skated in and forced the puck past Lundvist on a third effort. The Blueshirts took the lead back at the start of the second period on a short handed goal by Fredrik Sjostrom before Anaheim leveled the game once more, this time through Corey Perry. The teams traded punches (often quite literally; there were a pair of fighting majors and two roughing calls) for the first half of the final period before Gomez’ goal at 12:39.
“It was a little bit of an unlucky play,” said Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller of the game winning goal, which came while Pahlsson was serving an interference penalty. “There was a one-on-one in front of the slot, he [Naslund] kind of lost the puck, it went right up Gomez’ stick and he had almost the empty net,” Hiller recalled. “I think we shouldn’t take penalties like that in the third period but they just outplayed us on special teams today.”
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle echoed Hiller’s sentiments. “You’ve got to win the special teams battles,” he said. The visitors still had a good chance to send the game into overtime after Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi was hit with a delay of game penalty. Hiller ran to the bench, giving the Ducks a six on four, but Blair Betts broke up a play at the blue line and scored an empty netter to settle matters. “We tried to make a one on one play at the blue line and that’s not the right time or the right situation to try and make those plays,” Carlyle said. Betts was named the first star of the night for his efforts. Lundqvist and Gomez were the others.
“I think our team deserves the opportunity to relish what we have been able to accomplish in terms of wins, points and certain parts of our game,” said head coach Tom Renney. “Our penalty kills have been excellent. As much as our scoring has been minimal, I think it has been fairly balanced.”
Renney and captain Chris Drury were pleased with the team’s recent run of form. “We are on a pretty good run here,” said Drury. “I like what we are doing. I think we are getting better every week. That is what you have to do to have success down the stretch.”
” We have had five weeks of mediocre hockey,” conceded Renney. “I think what we have done lately suggests that we are coming back into what we want to be and have success.”