Sometimes, you run on empty. That’s precisely what happened to the Rangers and myself a little earlier following a disappointing 3-0 shutout loss to suddenly fire storming hot Carolina.
Something had to give as both Eastern foes entered riding three-game win streaks. Unfortunately, it was the Hurricanes who were a little more focused and better disciplined delivering a 60 minute effort making it four straight- leapfrogging the Rangers into a tie for sixth with Florida. Due to the same amount of games played with Pittsburgh holding one more win, they also moved ahead of the Rangers into eighth pushing them out of the playoff loop for the first time all season with 15 games left.
What can be taken from tonight’s potentially costly loss? Not much except that you just can’t expect to win games when you take as many silly penalties as the Rangers did. Truth be told, it was a highly entertaining game with both clubs using their speed and aggressive attacking styles taking turns testing each goalie. For the first time in 14 games, that meant Stephen Valiquette, who was in net giving workhorse Henrik Lundqvist a much needed night off with a busy week ahead that includes a challenging three in four stretch beginning Thursday in Nashville and finishing in New York on the back end of a home-and-home with the hated Flyers.
Pitted against Carolina No.1 Cam Ward, Valiquette more than held his own finishing on the losing side with 33 saves. His teammates couldn’t supply any offense having bad luck early on when Brandon Dubinsky was whistled for a hand pass which wiped out a goal five minutes in. Initially, one ref signaled goal but right away, the other two linesmen hinted strongly that it wasn’t. They didn’t even need video review discussing the play and getting it right. Maybe that was a bad omen.
It didn’t help matters that Scott Gomez started a bad trend taking two bad penalties on a night the Rangers handed Carolina six power plays. Good teams don’t do that in important games. While the No.2 rated PK was up to the task killing all three in an otherwise evenly played period, it allowed the more rested Canes to gain momentum and wear down a team which was playing for the second consecutive day having traveled. The full effects didn’t show till the third.
The Blueshirts got two man-advantages themselves when Patrick Eaves took consecutive minors but couldn’t cash in despite solid movement. Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival had the best chances but neither beat Ward, who was steady throughout stopping all 28 shots en route to his fifth shutout of the season.
Nearly halfway through, not much separated the clubs that entered a point apart. However, a turning point came when Sean Avery negated a power play. Hooked down by Dennis Seidenberg, Avery lost balance and then grabbed a Cane near the boards taking him down. It looked like he was trying to avoid a hit from behind. Regardless, it cost the Rangers a power play leading to four-on-four.
During the second half, all he could do was watch helplessly as the Canes broke the scoreless tie when Joe Corvo followed up his 13th off a three-on-two. Thanks to a dreadful Rozsival turnover at the right point, the Canes came in two-on-one. A hustling Redden did a good job diving down to distract ex-Ranger Matt Cullen, whose shot was stopped by Valiquette. But while Rozsival helplessly stood to the side, Corvo snuck in and stuffed it home giving the Canes a 1-0 lead at 9:01. Ray Whitney, who started the play got the other assist.
Back to the game. Trailing by one a few minutes later, the Rangers got an opportunity to tie it when Dubinsky was hooked by Cullen in the defensive zone. My brother had wanted to see John Tortorella try Avery on the PP. Unfortunately, the one instance he sent him out, it took all of 16 seconds for him to negate the chance getting a stupid interference minor. While it’s true he was knocked over, Avery still could’ve avoided the penalty which seemed to thrill the coach.
On another four-on-four, the Canes nearly struck again when NHL Player of The Week Eric Staal got behind younger brother Marc Staal and Dan Girardi for a breakaway. But unlike Rozsival, Girardi hustled back with his last second dive forcing Staal to make a quicker move which a sprawling Valiquette denied keeping it a one-goal contest.
Still down only one, Tortorella’s most effective line was the one with Avery on it featuring rookie Lauri Korpikoski and Ryan Callahan. The trio got the puck deep cycling the puck well generating chances. But Ward was up to the task keeping his team ahead thru two.
My feeling was that Tortorella should get that unit out as much as possible in the third. However, the Rangers showed signs of fatigue looking out of sync. Not surprisingly, another lack of discipline put Carolina on another PP when Nik Antropov took a lazy hooking minor with his defenseman Rozsival actually in the right position.
This time, the Canes made them pay when ageless captain Rod Brind’Amour had just enough room to bury a one-timer for his 10th over Valiquette’s left shoulder making it 2-0 at 3:41. It might’ve been only the second in 30 games for the fourth ever player in NHL history to play 600 games for two different teams. But how he ever got it off with Korpikoski positioned well is beyond me. Incredible strength and concentration by the savvy vet who tallied for a second straight game. He’s getting hot at the right time.
Whitney picked up the primary with a nifty saucer backhand feed off the left wall. Sergei Samsonov added a helper. While the Rangers never went completely away earning their fourth man-advantage, they couldn’t beat Ward, who made a stellar pad denial on an Antropov chance in the slot off a nice give-and-go with Morris. The latter looks to be a better power play QB than the TSN bozos seemed to think. He seems to make good reads. I wonder if there’s enough time to make this rental work. I like what I’ve seen so far.
After the Blueshirts failed for a fourth time on the PP, Tortorella mixed things up a bit shifting players around. Avery took shifts with Chris Drury and Callahan while Antropov played with Dubinsky and Korpikoski. I wasn’t sure if I would’ve taken such drastic measures. They were only down a pair and had competed well. The Canes played extremely well and deserved the two points.
I also didn’t get why Tort sent out the fourth line following Brind’Amour’s goal. There were still 16:19 remaining but it reminded me so much of Tom Renney. While it’s true they provide energy and put together a solid shift late in the second, why send them out in that spot down two? They don’t finish. It just didn’t seem to make much sense.
Anyway, the Canes limited the Rangers going to a trap before pest Tuomo Ruutu salted it away with an empty netter at 19:35. Erik Cole picked up an assist making it three straight games with a point since returning to Raleigh. He looks like a beast again. Maybe it’s the uniform or cheerleaders. Whatever it is, it won’t be long before he plays himself back into Olympic consideration for Team USA.
By the time, the Rangers take the ice again, they could be three out. Florida takes on the Pens later tonight and the 10th Sabres are in action versus the Flyers. The reeling Canadiens also play at home versus Edmonton while the Canes return to the ice tomorrow visiting Chicago. So, to say Thursday’s game is large would be the understatement.
They really need to turn it up. It’s not going to get any easier.
Notes: Brind’Amour joined Hall of Famers Mark Messier (Edm, NYR), Al MacInnis (Cgy, Stl) and former teammate/current assistant coach Ron Francis (Hfd-Car/Pit) as the only players to play 600 games for two different teams. The Hurricanes acquired him from the Flyers in exchange for center Keith Primeau on Jan.23, 2000. … The Rangers held a 32-31 edge in the faceoff circle but Cullen destroyed them winning 14-of-21 while picking up an assist and finishing plus-two.
… Carolina blocked 19 shots compared with the Rangers’ 13. Tim Gleason paced both sides with four shining as a defensive star while Rozsival got in the path of three. … Hits were 30-27 in favor of NYR with Callahan leading the way with five and Antropov adding four. Ruutu (5) and Cole (4) were the Canes’ most physical. … Former Ranger draft pick Dwight Helminen saw the ice for Paul Maurice getting only four shifts while centering the fourth line. He made the most of his three minutes finishing with three hits and a shot.
… Rangers (34-25-8, 76 Pts) travel to Nashville (33-29-4, 70 Pts), who sits eighth in an even more crowded West. So, plenty will be on the line in a place the Rangers historically don’t fare well. We’ll see how they respond before the big weekend against the Flyers.