NEW YORK, N.Y. – It was late magic yet again for the New York Rangers on Thursday evening at Madison Square Garden. Trailing 3-2 with under six minutes to go, Derek Stepan put home a rebound for the equalizer. Then, in the shootout, Erik Christensen scored the game-winning goal to lift the Rangers to a 4-3 win against the Phoenix Coyotes in an inter-conference clash. With the result, the Blueshirts improved to an overall record of 20-13-1, and maintain their No. 5 standing in the Eastern Conference ledger.
During the deciding shootout, Erik Christensen led things off for the Rangers. He skated past an attempted poke check by Coyotes’ goalie Jason LaBarbera, and put the puck in the net. According to Christensen, not everything goes as you expect it. “I had something planned, but I needed to make a move when he (LaBarbera) tried to poke away the puck from me.” When asked about the direction of the team, he said: “You are always looking for some sort of momentum. Our hard work is paying off, and we are a lot more consistent of a team than last year.”
Lee Stempniak then took his shot against Martin Biron for the Coyotes. Hoping to defeat the Rangers’ goalie with a backhand attempt, Biron was not fazed, and made the save. The next shooter for New York was Derek Stepan. He had already played hero once on the night, and was looking to do so again. But, the University of Wisconsin product shot just wide. Radim Vrbata then stepped up for Phoenix, and had Biron down on the ice following his deke move. But, the stuff-in try by Vrbata was stoned by the left pad of Biron, and kept the Rangers ahead.
Following a missed shot by Artem Anisimov, Eric Belanger was the last hope for the Coyotes. However, he could not get a shot off, and New York, which sports a 7-3 mark in its last 10 games, came out victorious. “This was a big win for us in the shootout,” stated Biron. “You never would have expected that from the way the game had started. Even though we were trailing after two periods, the strong character and effort kept us in it.”
In the opening period, the Broadway Blueshirts found themselves down a man early as Brian Boyle went to the penalty box for interference with 18:54 left. Just 21 seconds into the Phoenix power play, Taylor Pyatt tapped the puck, which caromed off of the boards to the front of the net, into the short side, past Biron for the early 1-0 advantage. Less than five minutes later, Adrian Aucoin extended the Coyote lead to a pair when a shot from the point found its way just past the glove of Biron, who began to hear chants of Henrik from the Garden crowd.
New York got off to a slow start, but managed to turn things around halfway through the stanza. On a delayed penalty by Sami LePisto, Alex Frolov caused a turnover in the Phoenix zone, and gave the puck to Boyle, whose shot was saved by LaBarbera. During the power play, Michael Del Zotto and Marian Gaborik put attempts on goal, but it was Dan Girardi that broke through with 7:53 remaining. On the play, Ruslan Fedotenko sent a cross-ice pass, which Girardi settled, and drove into the short side of the netting, making it a 2-1 game.
Girardi’s goal, his third of the 2010-11 campaign, gave the Blueshirts a power play tally in seven of their previous eight games. New York eventually got two more power plays before the break, but was unable to convert in its attempts. Brandon Dubinsky and Del Zotto each had chances in the man-advantages, but their shots were saved and mishandled, respectively. Despite the score favoring Phoenix, both teams were even in shots at 10 apiece.
Nine minutes into the second period, Boyle fell victim to another penalty. This time, he was sent to the sin bin on a hooking call. Once again, Phoenix made New York pay as Martin Hanzal scored his eighth goal of the season off a centering pass from Shane Doan, who now has 10 points in his last 11 games. The Rangers came on late once again though. With just five seconds remaining in the period, LaBarbera came out of the net to play the puck, but lost it to Brandon Prust, who put home a league-leading eighth short-handed tally before the break.
“On that play, I knew that the puck was going to be mine, and it found the back of the net,” said Prust. “With the goal, it was better that we went into the intermission down by one goal instead of two.”
In the third period, the contest began to open up as both the Rangers and Coyotes put together odd-man rushes in the first five-plus minutes. But, it was the Blueshirts that were still trailing by one until the 5:43 mark. Stepan buried a rebound off a shot by Chris Drury to knot the game at 3-all. The puck was played in by Michal Roszival and put on net by Drury, whose shot was turned aside by LaBarbera. Stepan later had the chance to give the Rangers the win with just under a minute remaining, but his shot sailed just wide of the frame.
Following the game, Stepan talked of his game-tying goal and hot rookie start. “The goal tonight really sparked us. It was also the first goal for me at Madison Square Garden, so it is very special to me…So far, the experience here has been great. But, it is a team effort, and it took all of us to get the win tonight.”
Between the pipes, Biron stopped 30 of 33 shots he faced, while LaBarbera turned aside 33 of 36. The Rangers and Coyotes were just about even in the shot and faceoff departments. New York held a 36-33 margin in shots, while Phoenix owned a 37-35 edge in the faceoff circle.
The Rangers are back in action on Saturday (Dec. 18) when they square off with the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pa. The puck drops at 1 p.m.