NEW YORK, N.Y. (Jan. 10, 2012) – In what was a defensive-sound, and goalie battle, the New York Rangers managed a 2-1 shootout victory against the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Down to their final opportunity in the shootout, Marian Gaborik kept it alive, and Derek Stepan netted the game-winner to clinch a season-series sweep of Phoenix, and a fifth-straight victory. Moreover, the Blueshirts improved to 27-8-4 on the campaign, and remain atop the Eastern Conference with 58 points.
During the first stanza, the only action the opening portion saw was a fight between New York’s Mike Rupp and Phoenix’s Paul Bissonnette just two minutes in. The play picked up though at the halfway mark, as both teams managed to get the puck on frame. However, both goaltenders turned out to be stellar. For the Blueshirts, Ryan McDonagh and John Mitchell were each stopped on one-timers by Mike Smith. After Mitchell’s shot gave off a rebound, Brandon Prust looked to follow-up, but his tip-in try landed at the goal line, and was covered up.
Meanwhile, for the Coyotes, Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata each had backhanders saved by Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist. He also denied Mikkel Boedker on a one-timer off a 3-on-2 rush for the visitors. Overall, the Blueshirts sported a 12-5 margin in shots in the period. They also held a 12-5 edge in faceoffs, a 14-13 clip in hits, and a 6-5 advantage in blocked shots. In addition, the forecheck was strong yet again for the hosts, as the Rangers had five takeaways through one. In net, Lundqvist had 12 saves, while Smith stopped five shots.
During the second period, the play proved to be quite tumultuous, as there were just a combined 13 shots. The Rangers and Coyotes each had one quality chance in the stanza. Six minutes in, Phoenix’s Raffi Torres fired a rocket from the far-side circle, which was stopped by Lundqvist. Shortly after, Anton Stralman looked to put the New Yorkers on the board, but his one-timer was gloved by Smith. The Rangers earned the first and lone man advantage of the period when Vrbata went off for hooking, but only one shot came of it for the hosts.
In the statistical column, New York was consistently ahead through two, paced by a 21-10 shot advantage. The Blueshirts also owned a 27-19 margin in hits, a 23-10 favor at the faceoff dot and a 9-5 edge in takeaways. The netminders were sensational once again. Lundqvist turned aside nine shots. Smith registered five saves.
It would be Ruslan Fedotenko that broke the scoreless deadlock for the Rangers just 2:27 into the third. On the play, Fedotenko gathered a loose puck between the circles, and beat Smith through the net’s short side to give New York a 1-0 cushion. Just over a minute later, Torres looked to answer for the Phoenix, but put a defensive miscue by the hosts off the left post, keeping it a one-goal game. Fourth-line skaters Mitchell and Carl Hagelin subsequently attempted to tack on some insurance, but their shots were wide, and saved, respectively.
“There was a lot of traffic there. I was just trying to get the puck on net, and it snuck through, said Fedotenko in regards to his goal-scoring play. “We have been creating chances, and need to keep grinding game after game.”
Later in the stanza, with Phoenix’s time dwindling down, Vrbata ripped a one-timer from the slot underneath the pads of Lundqvist to knot the contest at 1-all. Marc-Antoine Pouliot was credited with an assist, after sending a pass from the corner. Hagelin and Brandon Dubinsky each tried to put the Blueshirts back ahead prior to the buzzer ending regulation time. It was to no avail though, as Smith was strong between the pipes, and the game reached a five-minute sudden-death overtime session, where both teams have three wins so far this year.
Following a slow start to overtime, the action picked up with just over a minute remaining when Adrian Aucoin brought down Gaborik, who was streaking toward the net. The officials pointed toward center ice, and awarded him with a penalty shot. The Slovak, who entered the contest 1-for-2 in shootouts, went ahead with speed, and got Smith to commit, and go down. Looking to lift the puck into the netting for the victory, Gaborik’s attempt was knocked away by the stick of Smith, who brought up his blocker just enough to keep the extra point alive.
New York and Phoenix would eventually reach a shootout. Mitchell and Richards were unable to get respective attempts away, as they each lost control of the puck, while Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s chance for the visitors was kicked aside by Lundqvist. On Phoenix’s second chance, Vrbata, who earlier had the equalizing tally, found the netting once again off his backhand, putting his team in the driver’s seat with only one shooter left.
It came down to Gaborik, who had already been stopped in the overtime session on a potential game-winning penalty shot. He would not be denied this time. Going in at full speed, Gaborik snapped a wrister between the pads of Smith to keep the shootout going. “I tried to re-focus (after the penalty shot didn’t go in). It bothered me and was frustrating,” said Gaborik. “This time, I wanted to get some speed, but slow myself down as well.”
From there, five consecutive shooters were unable to beat either goaltender. That was until Stepan ripped the puck into the top shelf for his first career shootout tally. He had been 0-for-5 in his previous tries. “I knew I was looking to shoot the entire way,” Stepan said. “Everyone tried to get around him, and I wanted to keep it simple.”
Phoenix captain and long-time veteran Shane Doan was the Coyotes’ last chance. His shot was saved with the left pad by Lundqvist, and the Rangers picked up a fifth-straight victory in front of their home fans.
“We have had a lot of practice (with shootouts),” stated Lundqvist. “You play so many of them (throughout the season), and you just get comfortable…Being able to win these types of games is important in the conference.”
For the game, New York owned a 32-19 advantage in shots, a 39-29 margin in hits, a 34-13 favor between the hashes on faceoffs, a 13-8 clip in takeaways, and a 16-15 edge in blocked shots. In net, Smith turned aside a game-high 31 shots for Phoenix. Lundqvist registered 18 saves for the Blueshirts.
“We defended well (tonight), and developed scoring chances,” said Head Coach John Tortorella. “Henrik was great in the shootout, although we didn’t give him much offensively…This is a tight group. I believe that we can get things done. They try to stay within, and not beat themselves.”
Tortorella and the Rangers are back to the ice on Thursday (Jan. 12) when they close out a short two-game homestand against the Ottawa Senators, who have won six of seven after Wednesday’s 5-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. The puck drops at the Garden at 7 p.m.