NEW YORK – Forget Eli Manning’s tremendous performance at Giants Stadium. And forget Alex Rodriguez’s heroics in the ALDS. The best player in New York yesterday was a little used backup goaltender, who pitched his fourth career shutout.
Stephen Valiquette started for the first time this season in the eventual Ranger 3-0 win over the Anaheim, stopping all 18 shots sent to him, while his team dominated on the other end of the ice.
“Valley made some big saves at some key times,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “He played very well. I am happy for him. He goes about his business. He is kind of a forgotten man. If we want to get where we want to be, he is going to have to play well for us and he certainly played well for us tonight.”
It isn’t easy to be Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. Valiquette will play probably about 15 games this season, especially toward the beginning of the season as Tortorella wants No. 1 to be fresh for a Stanley Cup run. No matter, the Ranger defense made it easy for the tall netminder as they kept the puck out of the Rangers’ zone.
Rather, they kept peppering J.S. Giguere (35 saves on the night) with shots and kept forcing the puck in the neutral zone, which kept the home team in charge for most of the match.
“I think the strongest point of our defense is how they get up in the neutral zone,” Tortorella said. “There wasn’t much zone time in our end zone. That is due to them getting up the ice. I thought all of the defense, including the forwards fore-checking was important to us. We made some good defensive plays.”
Even with that pressure, the Rangers went into the dressing room tied at love through the first two periods. Much like their win on Thursday in Washington, the Blueshirts were able take control in the third. This time on the power play.
First, just a little bit over two minutes into the period, Ales Kotalik was able to put that heavy shot past Giguere from the left circle. It was for this reason the Rangers signed the former Buffalo Sabre, as he has become a quarterback on the man advantage.
“We played a solid game right from the start,” Kotalik said. “We knew they had a game yesterday, so we were pressing Some chances hit cross bars. We had been saying to just stay with it (and) be patient, and things are going to happen for us. They did (tonight). We made a difference in the power plays. That is why we are up there (in the standings).”
Later in the period, with a little more than five minutes left, Artem Anisimov scored his first goal of his NHL career as a feed from Sean Avery – playing his first game of the year – from behind the net went to Vinny Prospal who found the rookie Russian right in front of Giguere.
Even though that was enough for Valiquette, Dan Girardi was able to add an empty netter for the Rangers’ final score.
Notes: The Rangers play again tonight at the Garden as the Toronto Maple Leafs – and former enforcer Colton Orr – come to town…The Blueshirts improved to 4-1-0 overall, including a 2-0-0 mark at home; the Rangers are in the midst of a six-game home winning streak dating back to last season, and are 10-1-0 in their last 11 regular season games at MSG…New York tallied two goals in five power play opportunities, and have now registered five power play goals in their last three games (5-14, 35.7%).