Monday, October 31, 2005

Canadiens Pay Back Rangers

In the back end of a home-and-home, the Canadiens (8-3-1) earned a split by defeating the Rangers 4-1 at Madison Square Garden Monday night. Coming off a 5-2 loss Saturday, Montreal got better goaltending from Jose Theodore (23 saves), timely scoring and tighter defense.

With both Theodore and Henrik Lundqvist sharp the first two periods, all the scoring came in the third. Taking advantage of a Darius Kasparaitis high sticking double minor, Saku Koivu redirected a Craig Rivet point shot to give Montreal the lead 47 seconds in. Steve Begin added an assist.

After killing off a Marek Malik penalty, the Rangers tied the score with a power play goal of their own less than nine minutes later. With Niklas Sundstrom and Sheldon Souray in the box, Jaromir Jagr beat Theodore for his league-leading 12th goal, extending his point streak to 10 straight (10-5-15). Martin Straka and Dominic Moore tallied assists. For Moore, who logged the most ice-time (23:06) in the contest, it made it three points (2-1-3) in two games. All seven of his NHL points (3-4-7) have come against Montreal.

Unfortunately for New York, it only took the Habs 1:14 to regain the lead. Still on the power play, they gave up a shorthanded goal to Begin. Sundstrom forced Michael Nylander into a turnover, leading to a two-on-one with Begin. Begin beat Lundqvist top shelf, making it 2-1 with 9:06 left.

Any hopes of a comeback were dampened when ex-Ranger Alexei Kovalev scored for the second consecutive game. Unable to win many physical battles in the third, the Rangers lost one along the boards leading to Kovalev's insurance marker. Off a Koivu faceoff win, Jason Strudwick challenged Sheldon Souray to a fight. But Souray didn't oblige leading to a two-on-one down low with Koivu setting up Kovalev for his fourth of the season to make it 3-1 with 3:46 remaining.

With the outcome a foregone conclusion, Sundstrom added an empty net goal in the final minute. Begin added an assist for his third point of the night.

Notes: Martin Rucinsky suffered a sprained MCL Saturday night when he took a knee-on-knee hit from Rivet in the third. He will be lost for two-to-four weeks....Tom Poti sat out with the flu....Rangers (6-4-3) are at the Devils (6-5-0) Thursday for another home-and-home series that concludes at MSG Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Barber, Giants Shutout Redskins

On an emotional day at Giants Stadium in their first game since owner Wellington Mara passed away, the Giants (5-2) shutout the Redskins (4-3) 36-0. It was their first shutout since a 20-0 triumph over Philadelphia on November 2, 1998. With the win, it gave them sole possession of first in the NFC East because the Eagles lost at Denver 49-21.

"I think as a team we did a great job of staying focused," said Coach Tom Coughlin. "We knew what was going on and obviously it was tough for some people with everything going on with Mr. Mara but I think everybody understands that Mr. Mara would want us to stay focused on the game and he would want us to go out and practice every day and compete hard, have a good plan, and go out today and play hard."

Before the game, there was a moment of silence to honor Mara, who was involved with the franchise since 1925. One of his 40 grandchildren, Kate Mara sang the national anthem. Flags were at half-staff to honor him and a video tribute was shown highlighting the two Giants Super Bowl teams ('86, '90) and Mara's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Afterwards, the Giants honored Mara the only way they could. By taking apart an archrival on both sides of the field. Tiki Barber ran for a career high 206 yards and a score while Big Blue's defense forced four Washington turnovers in the blowout win.

Barber set the tone early with a 57-yard scamper on the Giants first play from scrimmage, helping setup a Jay Feely 39-yard field goal. It was the first of a career high five for Feely on the day.

After Eli Manning was picked off deep in Redskin territory, the Giants D forced the Washington offense into their second straight three-and-out. With good field position, one Manning completion to Derrick Ward along with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Skins allowed Feely to connect from 50 yards out, making it 6-0 before the end of the opening quarter.

Entering the game, New York's D ranked 31st in total yards allowed. They held Washington to 125 total yards, holding the NFC's number one rated quarterback Mark Brunell to 65 yards, sacking him three times with one interception. Clinton Portis rushed just four times for nine yards before leaving the game with an injury. Before Sunday, the Redskins offense had the fewest three-and-outs in the NFL. But on this day, Big Blue forced them three-and-out six times.

"We had good pressure, and that's where it started," Coughlin said.

A sack by Kenderick Allen made Washington punt again for the third straight series. That's when Barber had his second big run of the day, bursting down the sideline for 59 yards, all the way to the Redskins 3. Two plays later, rookie Brandon Jacobs plowed in from three yards out, extending the Giants lead to 13-0 early in the second quarter.

A Washington turnover would lead to another Feely field goal. Kendrick Clancy recovered a Santana Moss fumble at the Skins' 27. After 12 more yards on the ground from Barber and Jacobs, Feely hit from 33, increasing the Giants' lead to 16-0.

It only got worse for Washington on their next possession when ex-Skin Antonio Pierce picked off a Brunell pass and ran it back 17 yards to the Washington 29. A Barber 14-yard run paved the way for Feely's fourth kick of the half, connecting from 39 to give the Giants a 19-0 lead into the locker room.

The third Washington turnover came on the opening kickoff of the second half when Ladell Betts muffed a return, which was recovered by Willie Ponder. It took Big Blue only three plays to score. A Barber 18-yard dash and a Ward five-yard run setup Manning's only TD pass of the game to Jeremy Shockey from 10 yards out, making it 26-0. The rout was on.

After a Feely 44-yard field goal made it 29-0, the Giants took advantage of the Redskins' fourth turnover. Osi Umenyiora recovered a Chris Cooley fumble at the Washington 23. With the capacity home crowd calling for Barber to score a TD, they got their wish when he ran in from four yards, getting a loud ovation. After the game, Barber gave the ball to Tim McDonnell, Mara's grandson. A noble gesture on a banner day.

"I told him, 'This is for you, this is for your grandfather,'" he said to reporters afterwards. "It was a big day and a special day for me, especially considering the events of the past week. It's something I'll never forget."

All that was left was whether the Giants would become the first team to blank a Joe Gibbs coached Washington team. They drove all the way to the Giants 5 but New York's D forced backup QB Patrick Ramsey into an incomplete pass on fourth down. It was the closest the Skins would get to scoring.

"The team came together and presented John Mara with the game ball," said Coughlin.

Dad would have been proud.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Giants Set For First Place Battle Against Redskins

The Giants (4-2) look to continue the momentum of a thrilling 24-23 comeback home win over Denver last Sunday. Trailing 23-10, they rallied for two touchdowns late to give ailing owner Wellington Mara one more sweet memory before he passed away a couple of days later at the age of 89. In a storybook ending, Eli Manning found Amani Toomer for a two-yard score giving Big Blue an improbable victory that sent joy throughout the sidelines, including an emotional Michael Strahan jumping up and down like a little kid.

"That is the only thing that I thought about Sunday night," said an emotional Coach Tom Coughlin. "Because I told the players and I told the coaches, it wasn’t about us, it was about him."

A week later, having buried their long-time owner Friday, the Giants try to improve to 5-0 against the Redskins (4-2) at Giants Stadium in an NFC East first place battle. So far this season, the Giants have outscored opponents 137-76 at The Meadowlands- including a blowout triumph over the Saints in what was supposed to be a road game.

Now, the task becomes tougher. Having dropped two in a row, Washington got a much needed 52-17 rout over San Francisco in Week Seven. They led 35-7 at halftime, scoring on seven of their first nine possessions enroute to an easy victory.

With vet quarterback Mark Brunell (1492 yards, 12 TDs, 2 picks) and deep threat Santana Moss (38 receptions, 743 yards, 5 TDs) clicking on all cylinders in the Skins' offense, the Giants defense will have a tough test ahead Sunday. Toss in back Clinton Portis (544 rushing yards, 3 TDs) and the NFL's 31st ranked total defense should have its hands full.

Big Blue will need big games from Strahan (5.5 sacks), Osi Umenyiora (3 sacks), ex-Skin Antonio Pierce (50 tackles, Int), Will Allen (31 tackles) and Curtis DeLoatch (27 tackles, Int).

Led by Manning (1414 yards, 12 TDs, 4 Ints) and prime target Plaxico Burress (36 catches, 535 yards, 5 TDs), the Giants offense will try to move the ball against the league's fourth ranked D in total yards (266.0 allowed-per-game). Washington could see a dose of Tiki Barber (483 rushing yards, 5 TDs-1 receiving). They are 15th in the league against the run allowing 108.5 yards-a-game.

The Giants offensive line must beware of Cornelius Griffin (3 sacks), Lemar Marshall (2 sacks, 36 tackles, Int) and Marcus Washington (41 tackles, sack). In the secondary, Sean Taylor (22 tackles, Int) plays very aggressively but is a threat.

This game promises to have intensity and tons of emotion because for the first time in a while, both these teams have something to play for. The Eagles (4-2) travel to Denver (5-2), which means the winner at Giants Stadium could be in sole possession of first by the end of the day.

"The type of football the Giants are playing is a reflection of Wellington Mara," said former Giant, now CBS analyst Phil Simms. "I know Mara was proud of his current coach, because Tom Coughlin exemplifies everything he believes in, both in life and in football."

The Giants should be playing with pride to honor their deceased owner. Expect them to be ready in front of a fired up crowd. It should be a hotly contested game decided by seven points-or-less.

Rangers Have Moore Than Enough To Defeat Canadiens

Some players flourish against particular opponents. Such is the case with Ranger rookie pivot Dominic Moore, who continued his mastery of Montreal (7-3-1) in a 5-2 win at The Bell Centre Saturday night. Moore finished with two goals- opening and closing the scoring to continue his run of good luck against the Canadiens. Including an auspicious debut with three assists in a triumph back in '03-04, Moore has tallied all six NHL points (3-3-6) against Montreal.

It started 2:46 in off a brilliant rush with Moore going around Andrei Markov and deking Jose Theodore to give New York an early 1-0 lead. Ex-Hab Jason Ward and Fedor Tyutin notched assists.

After killing another boneheaded Ville Nieminen penalty, the Rangers increased their lead to two when Jaromir Jagr beat Theodore on a one-timer from the right wing for his league-leading 11th goal of the season. It extended Jagr's point-streak to nine straight (9-5-14). The goal came off a three-on-two rush with Michael Nylander feeding Jagr, who got just enough on the shot to bounce off Theodore's glove and in at 10:37.

Just 1:08 later, Martin Rucinsky potted a Marek Malik rebound from the side of the net for his sixth of the season to make it 3-0, forcing Montreal coach Claude Julien to call a timeout. He pulled Theodore (3 GA on 13 shots) after the period, replacing him with Yann Danis.

Montreal steadied and started to carry the play in the second. But rookie netminder Henrik Lundqvist- making his seventh start in eight games, repelled all 10 Canadien shots including a point blank robbery of Alexander Perezhogin to keep it a three-goal cushion entering the third.

That's when the momentum swung in the Canadiens' favor when they got right back in the game with two goals 3:37 apart. First, former Ranger Alexei Kovalev cut it to 3-1 with a left wing blast 51 seconds in. With the Rangers backing off, Kovalev fired home his third of the season, handcuffing Lundqvist. Richard Zednik and Saku Koivu assisted.

Zednik cut it to 3-2 when he was left alone in the slot to one-time a Koivu pass through Lundqvist at 4:28, forcing Ranger coach Tom Renney to use his timeout to settle his club down. That along with a change to his second line allowed his team to regain a two-goal lead 5:06 later.

Replacing Fedor Fedorov with Jed Ortmeyer, Renney saw the move pay off when Ortmeyer setup Steve Rucchin on the doorstep to give his team a 4-2 lead with 10:26 left. Earlier in the shift, Rucchin saved a possible tying goal with a backcheck on Pierre Dagenais, not allowing him to get a shot from in close. He was rewarded when Ortmeyer spotted him in front, passing to Rucchin, who one-timed a backhand by Danis. Rucinsky added an assist on the play for a two-point night.

On the next shift, Moore erased any doubt when he beat Danis top shelf to give the Rangers a 5-2 lead 38 seconds later with 9:48 remaining. Taking advantage of a Koivu turnover, Moore moved in on Danis and beat him high for an unassisted goal. It was his third tally of the season against his favorite opponent. Earlier this season, he helped the Rangers earn a point with a power play redirect in the home opener (4-3 OT loss).

Lundqvist was outstanding, making 38 saves including stopping 17 of 19 in the third. Danis stopped 14 of 16 shots in relief of Theodore.

The news wasn't all good for the Blueshirts, who saw Rucinsky knocked out of the game with a knee injury, courtesy of a late hit by Montreal defenseman Craig Rivet. The question is with the Rangers (6-3-3) not having an enforcer for Monday's rematch at The Garden, will they target Rivet? If Rucinsky can't go, Jeff Taffe could take his place. Recently reassigned Petr Prucha scored a goal in his Wolf Pack debut Saturday.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Turnovers Doom Jets In Loss To Falcons

Facing a pivotal game in their season, the Jets couldn't overcome four turnovers in a 27-14 loss at Atlanta (5-2) Monday night. In a sloppily played game which had a combined seven turnovers, Gang Green got off to a miserable start, due in large part to Vinny Testaverde losing the football three times.

The first miscue came on the second play in the Jets' opening series. At their own 19, Testaverde couldn't handle converted center Pete Kendall's snap, leading to a Bryan Scott recovery at the 20. Kendall, shifted over from guard to replace six-time Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae, who was lost for the season with a torn triceps suffered last week at Buffalo.

Michael Vick took advantage with a QB sneak from a yard out to give Atlanta a 7-0 lead. It was the first of two TD runs for the former Virginia Tech product.

It wouldn't get any better for Testaverde on the next possession. With the ball near midfield, Antwan Lake sacked him and the 41-year-old vet lost the ball before his knee touched the ground. Patrick Kerney scooped it up and returned it to the Jets 26, setting up a 22-yard Todd Peterson field goal which increased Atlanta's lead to 10-0.

After both offenses failed to get anything done on their next possessions, lightning struck for the third time for Testaverde early in the second quarter. This time, Rod Coleman came in untouched, leveling the shell shocked QB for a third muff, leading to Chauncey Davis' 24-yard return for a score, making it 17-0.

The Falcons would increase their lead to 20 on their next possession. After forcing a three-and-out, they drove to the Jets 23 on the strength of a Warrick Dunn 65-yard run. Dunn finished with 155 rushing yards on 24 carries. A Peterson 41-yard kick gave them a 20-0 lead with just over seven minutes left in the half.

Finally, the Jets showed some signs of life on their next drive. After having a Justin Miller kickoff return for a TD wiped out due to a Kenyatta Wright illegal block penalty, Testaverde led them down the field in just eight plays for a much needed score. He was three-for-four on the drive, finishing it by calling his own number from a yard out to make it 20-7 with 3:36 left.

That's when the game got a little crazy. After forcing Atlanta three-and-out on the strength of John Abraham's second sack of the night, the Jets got the ball back with 1:46 left and one timeout. A key Testaverde pass to Wayne Chrebet, which was originally ruled a completion was reversed by the officials' review with under two minutes in the half. For New York, it was a big call because it would have meant a first down near midfield. Unfortunately for coach Herman Edwards, it cost them their final timeout of the half.

It would prove to be huge when Jonathan Vilma intercepted Vick to get the ball back with 45 ticks left. Testaverde completed a pass near the sideline to Coles but unbelievably, they didn't get another play off due to confusion on whether Coles was out of bounds.

In the second half, the Falcons took control when Vick ran in from one-yard, beating the Jets D inside the right hash on a critical fourth-and-goal situation for a 27-7 lead. On the drive, Dunn gashed the Jets for 30 yards on the ground.

When DeAngelo Hall picked off Testaverde six plays later, the game looked over. But the Jets D gave their offense a spark when Ty Law intercepted Vick at the Atlanta 35. They held Vick to 134 total yards and a career worst QB rating of 16.3.

With Testaverde knocked out of the game to a right Achilles' injury, Brooks Bollinger led Gang Green on their second scoring drive of the night, resulting in a Curtis Martin one-yard run to put them within 27-14 with under 12:00 left in regulation. Martin was limited to just 28 rushing yards on 14 carries.

The Jets came up with their third pick of Vick when David Barrett Int'd him at the Jets 26. Bollinger then had his best series of the season, directing the Jets all the way to the Atlanta 11. But on a drive where he completed eight passes, it stalled when Bollinger misfired on fourth-and-one, handing Atlanta the ball back with 3:39 remaining. Dunn and Vick ran the clock out.

Notes: Linebacker Eric Barton was the latest Jet to be lost for the season when he tore his left triceps...In relief of Testaverde, Bollinger was 12-of-20 for 94 yards and was sacked twice....Jets (2-5) have a bye before hosting San Diego (3-4) on November 6th.

Stirling Fumes As Islanders Fall In Montreal

They say you're only as good as your next game. Someone forgot to tell the Islanders, who dropped a tough 4-3 decision to Montreal (6-2-0) Saturday night at The Bell Centre.

With Alexei Yashin having redirected a Janne Niinimaa shot past Jose Theodore to tie it at three with 2:53 left, the Islanders were in position to force overtime. But it all fell apart on the very next shift when Steve Begin put the Canadiens in front 1:08 later, with 1:45 remaining. Taking advantage of a Rick DiPietro miscue, Radek Bonk fed a wide open Begin in the slot, who beat DiPietro for the deciding goal.

Afterwards, coach Steve Stirling was not pleased with his team's forwards lack of coverage on the final two Habs' goals.

"Our forwards were sloppy on the last two goals, really sloppy," Stirling indicated to reporters after the game. "We told them, 'You can't give up 4-on-2s.'"

"It's disappointing," said DiPietro. "That's not something that you want to have happen in the last two minutes of the game."

Coming off two straight wins over the Rangers, the Islanders couldn't carry the momentum into the first period. Instead, the Canadiens made the Isles pay the price for two penalties, scoring the game's first two goals 5:05 apart. With rookie defenseman Chris Campoli off for interference, Montreal captain Saku Koivu converted an Alexandre Perezhogin pass to open the scoring at 8:26. Alexei Kovalev made it two-for-two on the power play when he blasted a slapshot by DiPietro with 6:29 left in the first. Koivu got the lone assist.

However, the Isles got one back on one of their own power plays, when Miroslav Satan beat Jose Theodore, tucking the puck underneath at the right post to cut the lead in half with 2:17 left. It extended Satan's goalscoring streak to three games (4-0-4). He would score again later.

The sizzling Satan tallied his second PP goal of the night to tie the game 2-2 with 1:15 left in the second. Off a Yashin faceoff win, Alexei Zhitnik fed Satan at the right point, who then ripped a slapshot past Theodore to send the teams knotted after two.

But with under seven minutes to go in regulation, New York native Christopher Higgins gave Montreal a 3-2 lead when Begin set him up. Begin had a goal and assist.

DiPietro finished with 28 saves while Theodore turned aside 19 of 22 shots.

Notes: Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel both sat out with injuries....Islanders (4-4-0) host the Thrashers (3-5-0) at Nassau Coliseum Tuesday night.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Lack of Discipline Hurts Rangers In Loss At Buffalo

Over the past seven seasons in which the Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs, undisciplined play was a common problem for those teams. In their 3-1 loss to Buffalo at HSBC Arena Saturday night, that same theme reared its ugly head.

Taking full advantage of some untimely New York penalties, Buffalo (6-2-0) was two-for-eight on the power play and scored the other goal directly after another man-advantage expired.

It proved too much for rookie netminder Henrik Lundqvist to overcome. Back in goal after coach Tom Renney indicated to the press Friday that he brought back Kevin Weekes too soon from a groin injury, Lundqvist was under siege against a superior Sabres attack. Though he played well in limiting the damage to three goals on 31 shots, he got charged with his first regulation defeat in six starts.

In their fourth contest in six nights, the Rangers were outshot in the early going 8-1. None of that mattered when Jaromir Jagr forced a Buffalo turnover, creating a two-on-one and setup Michael Nylander for the game's opening goal 13:04 in. It was Nylander's second of the season from Jagr and Darius Kasparaitis.

But they couldn't increase the lead, failing on one of their five power plays shortly after. With only 12 seconds left in the first period, Ville Nieminen took a lazy holding the stick penalty. Already his second minor of the game, it proved costly in the second.

Off a rush, Buffalo leading scorer Daniel Briere beat Lundqvist with a nifty backhand five-hole just 44 seconds into the second to tie the game at one. His seventh of the season was assisted by Dmitri Kalinin and Teppo Numminen.

Another penalty contributed to the Sabres' second goal of the night. With rookie Maxim Kondratiev in the box for kneeing, Buffalo worked the puck around, forcing Lundqvist to make a few difficult saves. Though the Rangers killed it off, Buffalo kept the puck in and worked the puck around to setup a go-ahead tally. With an exhausted Blueshirt unit scrambling, Thomas Vanek fed Rory Fitzpatrick all alone in the slot. Fitzpatrick's centering pass for J.P. Dumont surprised Lundqvist through the wickets at 8:48 for a 2-1 lead. Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov notched assists. Buffalo took the lead to the locker room.

After the Rangers killed off Nieminen's third minor of the game, they had two power play opportunities to tie it including a 47-second two-man advantage. But in a period where they failed to convert three of five on a powerless night, luck wasn't on their side. Steve Rucchin came the closest when his shanked shot from the slot trickled off the right post.

Their luck continued to be bad when Jason Ward appeared to beat rookie Ryan Miller on a backhand from the side of the net that went off Buffalo defenseman Toni Lydman with 8:10 remaining. However, before Ward and his teammates could celebrate, referee Don Van Massenhoven blew the play dead, thinking that Miller had it.

"Looking at the video and listening to the audio, I'd have to say it's a goal, but it's not for me to judge," Renney said to reporters afterwards.

Buffalo finally put the contest out of reach when the Rangers shot themselves in the foot again. With Jagr and Michal Rozsival taking penalties 20 seconds apart, it gave the Sabres a five-on-three to work with. Numminen setup Ales Kotalik for a one-time blast by Lundqvist making it 3-1 with 3:32 left.

"We beat ourselves," said an unhappy Renney. "We got in trouble with some very silly penalties from people who you'd think wouldn't."

It summed up a lost night for the Rangers (4-3-3), who dropped their second consecutive game in regulation and ran their losing streak to three. They have four days to fix things before meeting the Islanders for the third time in nine days Thursday at The Garden.

Notes: Tom Poti was a healthy scratch for the second time this season with Jason Strudwick replacing him in the lineup....With an assist, Jagr extended his point streak to seven games (8-3-11)....The Sabres 6-2-0 start is their best since it won eight in a row to start the '75-76 season....Miller (22 saves) is one win short of becoming the first rookie goalie to win seven games in October since Ed Belfour accomplished the feat with Chicago (1990).

Giants Look To Bounce Back Against Denver

Once again, the Giants (3-2) failed to take advantage of a bye week, losing at Dallas in a turnover filled game 16-13 in overtime. They turned the ball over five times and had issues scoring in the red zone after the D forced four turnovers.

This Sunday against a quality opponent in Denver (5-1), Big Blue must be razor sharp in all facets. Since dropping the season opener at Miami, the Broncos have won five straight. They are coming off a 28-20 victory over the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. However, it was a game they dominated for three quarters and led 28-3 before hanging on.

Quarterback Jake Plummer threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Plummer is in his third season with Denver. He has not thrown an interception in the last 17 quarters since a 20-17 win over San Diego in Week Two. This season, Plummer has tossed for 1141 yards, seven TDs, three Ints and also has run for a score. Coach Mike Shanahan believes Plummer's solid play could be due to finally adjusting to their system.

"He's in his third year," Shanahan said. "He feels comfortable with the system. I think it's a process and hopefully, he can keep it up."

Plummer's favorite target through the air is vet Rod Smith. He leads Denver with 34 receptions for 432 yards and two scores. Ashley Lelie (14 catches, TD) is the deep threat. The Giants secondary will need to keep Plummer from getting into a groove with both receivers.

On the ground, second-year back Tatum Bell leads Denver with 395 rushing yards and three TDs. He enters Sunday with back-to-back 100-yard games against Washington and New England. The Giants D must contain him or it could be a long day. If Bell is shutdown, Mike Anderson and ex-Giant Ron Dayne might get some carries.

On offense, Tiki Barber (397 rushing yards, 4 TDs- 1 receiving) could have his hands full with the NFL's fifth rated rushing defense (88.3 yards-per-game). He knows that the offense must do a better job when opportunities present themselves.

"The defense created turnover after turnover, but we were too inept to capitalize," he said. "The offense is out of sync."

Second-year QB Eli Manning looks to bounce back from a subpar performance in which he was only 14-of-30 for 215 yards, a TD, Int and a lost fumble at Dallas. Manning has thrown for 1,200 yards and 10 scores already this season. He could be without primary target Plaxico Burress (30 receptions-for-451 yards, 4 TDs) though. Burress didn't practice Friday due to back spasms and is questionable for Sunday.

If Burress can't go, Amani Toomer (11 receptions, TD) and tight end Jeremy Shockey (22 catches-for-380 yards, 3 TDs) should see the ball plenty.

The Giants play three of their next four games at Giants Stadium, including a divisional test next week against Washington. Coach Tom Coughlin knows how vital this stretch is.

"One game at home against this AFC team and a trip to the West Coast as well," said Coughlin. "So this particular phase, I think, is a defining part of our season. We have to play our way through this most difficult stage....We are going to be at home and we have got to continue to have the home field advantage and play the way we have been playing at home."

The Giants defense ranks dead last at stopping third downs. Time and time again last Sunday, they allowed Drew Bledsoe to pick them apart in those situations. Dallas converted nine-of-16 third downs while Big Blue's offense was an inept one-for-eleven. That can't happen against the Broncos or it won't be pretty.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Inside Blueshirts

Rangers Drop Second Straight To Crosstown Rivals: After an exciting 3-2 shootout loss Wednesday night at The Garden, the Rangers fell to the Islanders for the second consecutive game; this time falling 5-4 in regulation at Nassau Coliseum Thursday.

The Isles jumped all over the Rangers with three goals in a 1:18 span to take control early. But by the end of the period, Jaromir Jagr had gotten two goals back in the final minute, scoring once on a five-on-three and 55 seconds later with just three seconds left in the first.

But in an unpredictable game, Arron Asham's shorthanded goal proved to be the backbreaker early in the second. Though Martin Rucinsky would notch his fifth goal of the season less than a minute later, the Blueshirts could never get over the hump. Trailing 4-3 early in the third, a Michal Rozsival hooking penalty proved costly when Mark Parrish redirected a Brent Sopel shot for his second tally of the seesaw contest.

With another power play tally off a goalmouth scramble, Jagr completed his 12th career hat trick and first as a Ranger to cut the deficit to 5-4 with 5:42 remaining. However, his three goals which gave him a league-leading 10 (8 PP) and 14 points on the season wouldn't be enough on this night.

Returning from a groin injury which kept him out four games, Kevin Weekes had a rough night, stopping only 16 of 21 Isles' shots.

The loss was just the club's second in regulation in their first nine games.

Straka Tallies Two Assists: In the loss, LW Martin Straka picked up two assists to increase his '04-05 total to a league best 11. The 33-year-old Czech native has recorded seven of those assists via the power play. He has yet to score a goal this season.

Rucinsky Hot Of Late: With his goal Thursday, LW Martin Rucinsky continued his hot play. Currently tied for second with Straka in team scoring with 11 points (5-6-11), the 34-year-old 15-year veteran has eight points (3-5-8) in his last five games.

Tyutin Leading The Way On D: Despite struggling against the Islanders, D Fedor Tyutin has been very steady so far this season. The 22-year-old Russian product paces all Ranger defensemen with a goal and four assists. After a slow start to the season, the former 2001 second round pick has a four-game pointscoring streak (1-3-4) along with a plus-three rating in that span.

Hossa Continues To Pay Dividends: Before the season got underway, the Rangers dealt C/LW Garth Murray to Montreal in exchange for LW Marcel Hossa. The younger brother of NHL star Marian, Marcel had yet to make his mark in the league. Deemed expendable by Montreal entering his fourth season, Hossa has played on New York's second line with Steve Rucchin and Rucinsky. After assisting on a Rucinsky goal Thursday, Hossa enters Saturday with seven points (3-4-7). In his first three years with the Canadiens, the former 2000 first round selection produced 19 points (10-9-19) in 59 career games.

Lundqvist Turning Heads: G Henrik Lundqvist has been impressive so far in his debut NHL season. In five starts with the Blueshirts, the 23-year-old Swedish product has gone 3-0-2 with a 1.37 goals against average (GAA) and .944 save percentage. He recorded his first NHL shutout this past Monday with 23 saves in a 4-0 win over Florida. The former 2000 seventh round pick became the first Ranger rookie netminder to earn a shutout since John VanbiesBrouck did it 20 years ago with a 6-0 blanking of Vancouver back on January 2, 1985.

Prucha Scores First Two NHL Goals: RW Petr Prucha netted his first two NHL goals this past week. The 23-year-old Czech native was taken by the Rangers in the eighth round of the 2002 Draft. Signed before the season, Prucha has played in six games mostly on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Jed Ortmeyer. Against Florida, he scored his first NHL goal on a two-on-one, beating Roberto Luongo top shelf. Trailing the Islanders 2-1 late in the third Wednesday, Prucha rewarded Ranger coach Tom Renney with a power play goal off a deflection for his second tally in two games to give the Blueshirts at least a point at MSG.

Rangers Visit Buffalo Tonight: Rangers (4-2-3) travel to Buffalo (5-2-0) Saturday night (7:30 PM) for the first of four meetings this season. In '03-04, the Sabres took the season series, winning three of four. Buffalo leads the all-time series with a 62-46-25-1 record in 134 meetings. Historically, the Blueshirts have struggled at Buffalo, winning just 19 times in 68 games (19-39-10-0). They split two games at HSBC Arena in '03-04 with both decided by 3-1 margins.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

DiPietro Stones Rangers In Isles' Shootout Win

The Rangers and Islanders have had one of the most intense rivalries in the NHL for four decades. But never before had either team competed in a game that needed a shootout to decide the winner.

In an edge of your seat thriller befitting of the 'New NHL,' the Islanders defeated the Rangers (4-1-3) 3-2 in front of a capacity Madison Square Garden electric crowd.

Rick DiPietro made 33 saves and Alexei Yashin had a goal and an assist to help the Isles get their first win against the Blueshirts in 11 games since a 3-1 victory at MSG on November 23, 2002. Entering the contest, they had gone 0-8-2 in the previous 10 meetings including dropping all six games in '03-04.

Back from a concussion sustained last week against Washington, DiPietro was the story early on making several remarkable saves to thwart some early Rangers' power play chances in the first. One clutch stop for the highlight reel was a flat out robbery on Marek Malik from in close.

DiPietro's early heroics allowed his team to settle down and kill three straight penalties. When they finally had a two-man advantage with Jason Ward and Maxim Kondratiev in the box 24 seconds apart, the Islanders capitalized when Yashin put home an Alexei Zhitnik rebound by Henrik Lundqvist at 13:07 to give the Isles a 1-0 lead. It was the first time in eight games this season that a Ranger opponent had scored the opening goal. It was also the first power play goal the Rangers allowed in 18 chances.

Despite being outshot 14-12 in the first, the Islanders took the one-goal lead to the locker room.

The Rangers came out flying in the second period, carrying much of the play. But despite having an 11-2 advantage in shots, they couldn't get a puck by DiPietro. Due in large part to their goalie, the Isles killed off two more Ranger power plays before they got another two-man advantage late when the Rangers took two undisciplined hooking penalties. Before the period concluded, Miroslav Satan hit the crossbar on a feed from Yashin, keeping it 1-0.

To put into perspective how much of a zone DiPietro was in, Jaromir Jagr had eight shots through 40 minutes.

In the opening minute of the third, Satan wouldn't miss this time. Setup by Yashin in the slot, he beat Lundqvist to the stick side 28 seconds in for the Isles' second power play tally of the night.

But before they could get comfortable with a two-goal lead, a fluke play broke up DiPietro's shutout on the very next shift. Off the faceoff, Jagr carried the puck into the Isles' zone and centered a pass which deflected right off rookie defenseman Tomi Pettinen past DiPietro, making it 2-1 just 14 seconds later. It was Jagr's first even-strength goal of the season (other 6 on PP).

With the crowd back into it, each team took turns controlling play. But neither netminder would budge making for a dramatic finish. With Jason Blake off for hooking Jagr, the Rangers tied the game when they got a spark from rookie Petr Prucha. Having played his best game of the season, Prucha was rewarded by Coach Tom Renney when he was put on the power play. With the top unit unable to crack DiPietro in the first seven PP chances, Prucha came through and redirected a Fedor Tyutin shot for his second goal in two games, tying the game 2-2 with 4:37 left in regulation.

The reenergized Blueshirts threatened to break the tie late but DiPietro was up to the challenge, forcing overtime. In it, the Rangers continued to come close. After Lundqvist (24 saves) stopped Yashin on the only Isles' shot, DiPietro again came up big when he robbed Tom Poti with a glove save. He also got a piece of Prucha's backhand attempt just before.

Fittingly, the game went to the first ever shootout between the archrivals. With the crowd on its feet, Lundqvist stoned Yashin's backhand deke. Then it was DiPietro's turn to shine, stacking the pads on Prucha's forehand deke. On the Isles' second shot, Satan calmly beat Lundqvist stickside giving them a 1-0 lead. Then the unthinkable happened when Jagr's stick snapped in half as he attempted a wrist shot at DiPietro, making for the goalie's easiest save of the night. With a chance to end it, Mark Parrish missed wide. But Michael Nylander's forehand deke went off the post, giving the Islanders (3-3-0) the victory. It was DiPietro's first ever win against the Rangers.

The best part about it is that these two teams get to do it all again tonight at Nassau Coliseum with a third match to follow at MSG next Thursday. If this is what the league envisioned, then they got one right.

Notes: Returning from a groin injury which kept him out a week, Kevin Weekes backed up Lundqvist and could get the start tonight....Dale Purinton was recalled from Hartford. He's still serving a 10-game suspension for attempting to injure Bruins rookie Colton Orr's eye in a preseason game....Chris Holt was sent down to Hartford....Jeff Taffe, acquired from Phoenix for Jamie Lundmark Tuesday didn't suit up.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Bills, McGahee Too Much For Jets

The Jets (2-4) were looking for two consecutive wins for the first time this season. Instead, they fell to Buffalo (3-3) 27-17 at Rich Stadium Sunday afternoon.

Willis McGahee rushed for a career high 143 yards and one touchdown while Kelly Holcomb went 18-of-26 for 172 yards and two TDs in helping Buffalo score a season-high 27 points over New York. It was Gang Green's fifth consecutive road loss, dating back to last season.

The game started poorly for the Jets. On the first play from scrimmage, they allowed Terrence McGee to return the opening kickoff 43 yards to the Buffalo 40. After a five-yard penalty, McGahee carried the ball three times for 31 yards, all the way to the Jets' 29. It helped setup Buffalo's opening score. On a third-and-goal, Holcomb found Jonathan Smith for an eight-yard TD giving the Bills an early 7-0 lead 5:22 in.

Early on, New York's offense couldn't get much going. After Vinny Testaverde was sacked twice in a row by Ryan Denney to stall Gang Green's second drive, Buffalo got the ball back with 1:07 left in the first. Immediately, McGahee went back to work, pounding the Jets D for 32 yards on two carries all the way to the Jets' 35 to end the quarter.

With the Bills continuing to attack the Jets on the ground, they extended their lead to two scores when Holcomb hit a wide open Eric Moulds for a 15-yard TD making it 14-0 with 10:44 left in the half.

After two three-and-outs by both offenses, the Jets finally showed some signs of life when they got the ball back with 7:41 left. It took them just four plays to put their first points on the board. Setup by a Curtis Martin 49-yard scamper, New York got on the board when rookie kicker Mike Nugent drilled a 44-yard field goal making it 14-3 with 6:33 remaining.

With the Bills driving again, Ty Law came up with a big play, intercepting Holcomb inside their own 10, giving his team the ball back with over three minutes to go in the half.

That's when Martin and the Jets offense got back into the game. After two Martin runs for nine yards sandwiched around a Buffalo five-yard penalty, Testaverde completed passes of 29 and 28 yards to Justin McCareins to put the Jets at the Buffalo 20. Aided by a Bills' pass interference that put the ball on the goal line, Martin ran in from one yard out to cut it to 14-10 with 39 seconds to go in the half. For the day, Martin had a season best 148 yards on only 18 carries with the TD.

But another McGee big return and an undisciplined Jets 15-yard penalty led to a Rian Lindell 50-yard field goal to make it 17-10 with no time remaining in the half.

On the first possession of the second half, the Jets looked to be in position to tie the game. But After another Martin 41-yard run to the Buffalo 20, Testaverde was picked off by Troy Vincent, who returned it nine yards to the Bills' 18. It was one of two picks Testaverde threw on the day and proved costly on Buffalo's next drive.

Unable to stop McGahee and backup Shaun Williams on the ground, the Jets D allowed the Bills to go right down the field for another score which chewed up almost six minutes. McGahee accounted for 42 yards on the drive including a 13-yard reception. He finally finished it with a one-yard TD run to extend Buffalo's lead to 24-10 with 6:32 left in the third quarter.

After New York was stopped in their next possession, they came up with another key play to get within a touchdown. Mark Brown intercepted Holcomb and returned it 18 yards all the way to the Buffalo 2. Two plays later, Testaverde's quarterback sneak from a yard out made it 24-17 with 1:41 left in the third. It was his 14th career rushing TD in a 19-year career.

Unfortunately for the Jets, it was as close as they would get. Off another lengthy drive in the fourth, Lindell added a 38-yard field goal, giving Buffalo a 27-17 lead with over six minutes left.

Gang Green's final two possessions resulted in two Testaverde turnovers (fumble, int), putting a damper on any last hopes of a comeback.

Cowboys Edge Giants 16-13 In Overtime

In a turnover filled game, the Giants (3-2) fell to Dallas (4-2) 16-13 in overtime at Big D Sunday afternoon.

Coming into the contest, first place in the NFC East was on the line. With two of the top four NFL-rated quarterbacks, many anticipated a shootout but it never transpired.

Instead, each team took turns giving the ball away. Both had four turnovers in a sloppily played game.

Despite being outplayed by the Cowboys for most of the game, the Giants still had a chance to tie it late. Trailing Dallas 13-6 with under five minutes left in regulation, New York drove all the way to the Cowboys' 1. But after an Eli Manning fourth down conversion to Jeremy Shockey and some strong running by Tiki Barber, the drive stalled. Facing a second-and-one from the Dallas 3, Coach Tom Coughlin substituted rookie Brandon Jacobs in for Barber. Jacobs barreled to the 1 and nearly got in but the ball was jarred loose and recovered by Roy Williams with 1:18 left.

Luckily for the Giants, they had all three timeouts and forced a three-and-out to get the ball back near midfield with 52 seconds remaining. On a day in which he struggled, Manning needed just two plays to force OT. After a 28-yard completeion to Plaxico Burress, he hit Shockey on a slant and watched the big tight end run it in for a 24-yard tying score with 19 seconds left.

In sudden death, the Giant D had no answers. They gave up three straight Drew Bledsoe first down completions including a 26-yard one to Jason Witten all the way to the Giants 28. It was all Jose Cortez would need. A few plays later, he atoned for two earlier misses with a gamewinning 45-yard field goal to make Dallas a 16-13 winner with 11:19 left in OT. The Giants fell to 3-14 off bye weeks.

Early on, the Giants got on the board first. After Michael Strahan recovered a Bledsoe fumble, it setup a 50-yard Jay Feely field goal to make it 3-0 after a quarter.

They received a second gift when Bledsoe was intercepted by Curtis DeLoatch near midfield. But Manning and the offense couldn't capitalize, going three-and-out. It would become a common theme.

With Dallas looking to get something going, Bledsoe hit Keyshawn Johnson for a 26-yard completion but Johnson fumbled and Nick Greisen returned it 28 yards to the Dallas 32. After driving to the Dallas 12, a costly false start penalty by Burress and a Greg Ellis sack of Manning forced the Giants to settle for a 45-yard Feely field goal making it 6-0 with 9:15 left in the half. On the next possession, Dallas made New York pay for not coming out with more points.

Bledsoe led the Cowboys on a long 16-play 83-yard drive that chewed up more than seven minutes. Finding wide open receivers all over the field, Bledsoe was near perfect, completing eight of nine passes. He finished it in style with a textbook play action TD pass to Witten from two yards out, giving Dallas a 7-6 lead with 1:14 to go in the half. For the game, Bledsoe was 26-of-37 for 312 yards with 1 TD, 1 Int and two lost fumbles.

After a Giants three-and-out, the Cowboys got the ball back and were in field goal range after a 10-yard Bledsoe completion to Terry Glenn. But Big Blue's D blocked Cortez' attempted 49-yarder with no time left in the half.

Manning and company would get another chance early in the second half on another Dallas miscue. After Osi Umenyiora sacked Bledsoe, leading to a Reggie Torbor fumble recovery at the Dallas 36, Manning had the Giants setup to go in front at the Cowboys' 13. But on third-and-six, he was intercepted by Alex Henry, who returned it 43 yards. It ended a string of 125 passes thrown by the second-year QB without a pick since two in Week One to Arizona.

After the Giants held, the offense again let them down. Manning hit Burress for nine yards but he lost the ball and it was recovered by Jason Ferguson at the Giants' 19. But Dallas couldn't take advantage due to two costly penalties. Cortez missed a 48-yard field goal.

Another New York three-and-out resulted in another long Dallas drive which spanned the end of the third quarter and 2:12 of the fourth. Big Blue's D stopped Marion Barber on a third-and-one to hold Dallas to a Cortez 29-yard field goal giving the Cowboys a 10-6 lead with 12:48 left.

They would extend it to 13-6 on another Manning miscue. After a La'Roi Glover sack of Manning forced a fumble, Ellis recovered it and rumbled 37 yards into Giant territory. With 4:47 left, Cortez added a 28-yard field goal making it 13-6 to setup the unpredictable finish.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Rangers Thrash Atlanta 5-1

The Rangers just might be getting the hang of this 'new nhl' thing. They also might be enjoying it more. For the second consecutive game on home ice, they handled an opponent that had given them problems in past seasons.

Instead of the Devils, this time the victim was the Thrashers in a 5-1 victory Saturday night in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd. It snapped a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) on home ice against Atlanta (2-4-0).

Martin Rucinsky and Michael Nylander each had a goal and assist while Jaromir Jagr and Marcel Hossa added two assists in the Blueshirts' second win in a row.

Rucinsky got the Rangers on the board first when he fired a shot from the left boards that deflected past Atlanta rookie netminder Adam Berkhoel 10:32 into the first. Berkhoel, the former University of Denver product was making his first NHL start due to a rash of injuries to Atlanta's goalies. He had 24 saves. Kari Lehtonen and Mike Dunham were out with injuries while third stringer Michael Garnett was rested after a 9-1 blowout loss to Toronto Friday night. Fedor Tyutin and Hossa notched assists. In all six games this season, New York has scored first. They carried that lead to the locker room, outshooting Atlanta 10-8.

Jed Ortmeyer made it a two-goal lead 12:31 into the second when he rebounded his own redirection, chipping the puck over Berkhoel for his first of the season. The play was created off some good forecheck pressure. After the Thrashers almost tied it, the Rangers worked the puck into the Atlanta zone and drew a penalty. But on the delayed call, Dominic Moore kept the play alive by passing it around Peter Bondra to Nylander. Nylander setup a Martin Straka one-timer, which Ortmeyer tipped and then put home.

In past years, pucks wouldn't bounce the Rangers' way. However, they would receive a fortuitous bounce only 35 seconds later which allowed Steve Rucchin to make it 3-0. With his initial shot blocked by Garnet Exelby, the puck came right back and he quickly fired a low shot through Exelby and Berkhoel for his first of the season from Rucinsky and Hossa.

After Darius Kasparaitis drew an interference penalty on Scott Mellanby, the Rangers took advantage when Nylander one-timed home a Michal Rozsival pass from the point thru a screen to make it 4-0 with 3:16 left in the stanza. Nylander's first of the season was assisted by Rozsival and Jagr.

Having outplayed and outshot Atlanta 19-14 after two periods to build the four-goal cushion, the Garden crowd gave the Rangers a standing ovation. Little did they know what rookie goalie Henrik Lundqvist had in store for the final period.

With his team comfortably ahead, it was Lundqvist's time to shine in the third and that he did. With Atlanta finally coming out with more energy, Lundqvist became the story, making several great saves to retain the 4-0 lead. As he repelled each shot away, the crowd got more into it. When Ilya Kovalchuk's centering feed deflected off Kasparaitis' skate and by Lundqvist with 10:53 remaining to foil the shutout bid, the knowledgable crowd gave him a standing ovation. He continued to earn more cheers as the period went on.

With the Thrashers down 4-1 and on the attack, Lundqvist turned away their attempts to get back into the game, including a pad stop of a Bondra one-timer.

Finally, the Rangers put the contest out of reach due to some hard work from Ville Nieminen. Switched onto the top line by coach Tom Renney to help check Atlanta's top line, Nieminen kept a forecheck alive in the corner. It resulted in him finding a Jagr rebound and beating Berkhoel for a 5-1 lead with 7:53 left. Jagr and Marek Malik picked up helpers.

Afterwards, the Lundqvist show continued as he made several more of his sparkling 14 third period saves. His best stop was a point blank robbery of Marian Hossa from in close, stoning the former Senator. So steady was the 23-year-old in his second straight start that Ranger fans started chanting, 'Lundqvist, Lundqvist, Lundqvist' after stoppages.

With over a minute left and his team on their way to a win, the Swedish product acknowledged the cheers by waving to the crowd. As the buzzer sounded, he slapped a puck in the general direction where most of the chants came from. He finished with 28 saves.

After being announced as the game's number one star for the second consecutive game, Lundqvist went over to that same corner and tossed a puck over the boards to a lucky fan. With them continuing to laud him, he took a couple of more bows before leaving the ice.

"It was loud back home, but this is New York," Lundqvist said to reporters afterwards. "Only two games here and they're saying my name. I love this crowd already."

It might have been the most energy a Garden crowd had since the days of Mike Richter in net. It also invoked memories of another special era in which the Rangers were a team on and off the ice. That it came so early in a season most experts had written them off was ample proof that hard work pays off. The Atlantic Division leading Rangers (3-1-2) look to continue that trend when they host Florida (4-2-0) Monday night at 7 PM.

Jets Go For Second Straight Win At Buffalo

The Jets got a much needed win at home last week over Tampa Bay 14-12. In place of Brooks Bollinger, Vinny Testaverde helped spark Gang Green's offense to victory.
The 41-year-old quarterback was an efficient 13-of-19 for 163 yards and one interception.

While Testaverde opened up the passing game, Curtis Martin fought for all 59 yards he got on 23 carries along with two touchdowns.

"Vinny's a stallion," Martin said. "At his age, I can't even imagine playing football, but he's still out there and he's still getting the job done."

"We've designed our offense around the things that Vinny can do well, and that’s how we’re going to play the whole year," coach Herman Edwards said. "We’re just trying to make him feel comfortable because he has no training camp experience with us; he has no off-season experience with us. He’s only going on his seventh practice."

While they gave the offense a boost, the Jets D limited Michael Pittman to 46 yards on the ground while intercepting Brian Griese once and sacking him three times.

New York is looking for its second consecutive win but must accomplish it in a tough environment at Rich Stadium in Buffalo (4:15 PM, CBS). The Bills halted a three-game losing streak with a 20-14 win over Miami last week. With second-year QB J.P. Losman struggling, Bills coach Mike Mularkey turned to veteran Kelly Holcomb to help lift the offense. Signed from Cleveland, Holcomb was 20-of-26 for 169 yards and a TD. It was quite a change from how much the offense struggled with Losman, which had scored just 29 points in their last 14 quarters.

"When you have a young guy, you don't run a lot of plays that we ran today because he's not used to seeing those types of defenses," Buffalo receiver Eric Moulds said last week. "When you have a veteran guy that has played a long time, you can put more on display because he's seen every kind of coverage."

While Holcomb solidified the passing game, second-year back Willis McGahee carried the ball 31 times for 86 yards and a score. In his first start against the Jets last year, he ran for 132 yards and a TD in a Bills win late last year. Gang Green must keep McGahee in check if they are to prevail Sunday.

A big key to that will be ex-Hurricane teammate Jonathan Vilma. Vilma leads the Jets in tackles with 63. Defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson is also coming off a career game in which he had two sacks and nine tackles against Tampa. The performance was good enough to merit AFC Defensive Player of The Week honors. Along with sack leader John Abraham (3.0 sacks) and Shaun Ellis (1.5 sacks), Gang Green needs to control the line of scrimmage against Buffalo Sunday.

At stake today could be the playoff aspirations of both clubs. They both enter 2-3 knowing full well that whoever loses could be in trouble.

Expect a hard fought game that should be very physical at the line of scrimmage. It could come down to a field goal late. Rookie Mike Nugent might need to atone for his two misses last week.

Giants Look To Make Statement In Big D

Imagine this. It's Week Six in the NFL and both the Giants and Cowboys will do battle in a key NFC East match-up with the division wide open. Unlike past seasons where the Eagles have dominated the NFC East, things are different this time. Heading into Sunday, Big Blue is tied with the Redskins for first with a 3-1 record. Right behind them are Dallas and Philadelphia, who each own 3-2 marks.

After an embarrassing Week Three blowout loss at San Diego, the Giants rebounded with a blowout win of their own at home over St. Louis two weeks ago. Second-year quarterback Eli Manning threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns in the win while favorite target Plaxico Burress torched the Rams secondary with 10 catches for 204 yards and two TDs.

The NFL's number one rated offense (34.0 PPG) looks to pick up where it left off October 2nd when they visit Dallas today at 1 PM on Fox.

What must concern the Giants though is their history off bye weeks. They are only 3-13 in games after a week off. When asked about whether he was worried about his team not being as sharp off a bye, Coach Tom Coughlin said, "I’ve been asked so many questions about the bye week and coming out of the bye week, I get sick of talking about it."

"There are positives about the bye week as well that people seem to overlook....For the coaches, I think it’s a great chance to study all kinds of things – yourself, top teams in the league in different areas. You can practice your team in such a way that you work on things that you need to work on."

"The questions that you get are, can you maintain the same pace coming out of the bye that you had going into the bye? Well, that’s what you certainly hope for. The question speaks to a level of focus and intensity. And I honestly think our intensity has been good this week. And it is largely because of who we play this weekend."

There's little doubt that Coughlin should have his team ready for a Dallas team that comes off an impressive 33-10 pasting of the Eagles. Drew Bledsoe was 24-of-35 for 289 yards and three TDs. He became the eighth QB in NFL history to throw for 41,000 yards. In the victory, he hooked up with primary target Terry Glenn for two scores. Bledsoe and Glenn have carried over their chemistry from when they played together at New England, where they helped current Dallas coach Bill Parcells reach Super Bowl XXXI before losing to Green Bay 35-21 in 1997.

Bledsoe was signed in the offseason from Buffalo. He has been brilliant so far in a more wide open offense in Big D, tossing for 1351 yards with 10 TDs, just three picks along with a QB rating of 102.0.

One way the Giants D can slow him down is by pressuring the 12-year vet. Bledsoe can be sacked and is prone to fumbling. In his previous two seasons with the Bills, he was sacked 86 times and fumbled 24 times, losing 15 of them. So far this year, the Dallas offensive line has done a good job protecting Bledsoe but he's stll been sacked 10 times and fumbled four times (1 lost).

New York must get big games from Michael Strahan (3.5 sacks) and Osi Umenyiora (2 sacks) or it could be a long trip back home.

Parcells is uncertain whether second-year back Julius Jones will play. Jones rushed for 72 yards in the first half last week before sitting out the second half with a sprained ankle. He missed practice all week and is uncertain. If he can't go, Parcells might turn to rookie Tyson Thompson, who ran for 75 yards last week. The other option is Anthony Thomas. Either way, Parcells isn't saying who it will be.

"You're not going to know until Sunday no matter who you ask, because no one knows, because the answer isn't there," Parcells said. "No one knows. I don't know which one it's going to be."

Against Parcells, expect the unexpected.

Though the Dallas defense is coming off a solid performance in which they held the Eagles to 129 total yards, they are susceptible in the secondary. Look for the NFL's fourth rated passer Manning (97.8) to test it early. The Giants should also give Dallas a dose of Tiki Barber (333 rushing yards, 3 TDs) on the ground and newly re-signed tight end Jeremy Shockey (17 receptions, 2 TDs) in the air.

Look for a lot of downfield throws by both offenses and a ton of points in a shootout.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Inside Blueshirts

Lundqvist Notches First NHL Win: Rookie netminder Henrik Lundqvist recorded his first NHL win in his second start for the Rangers, finishing with 20 saves in a 4-1 victory over the Devils Thursday night. The 23-year-old Swedish product was selected by New York in the seventh round of the 2000 Draft. He starred overseas back home, lifting Frolunda to a championship in '04-05. Lundqvist recently played for Team Sweden at the World Championship, guiding them to a fourth place finish.

In net against the Devils for his second career start (made 24 saves in 3-2 OT loss to NJ Saturday), Lundqvist allowed a Brian Gionta rebound goal early in the third period to spoil a shutout bid. However, the first-year goalie was steady in picking up win number one at Madison Square Garden against an archrival that had owned the Blueshirts recently. It was only the club's fourth win against the Devils in the last 42 regular season meetings (4-24-13-1).

With his team ahead 3-0 in the second, Lundqvist made his best save of the night robbing Devil shorthanded specialist John Madden on a breakaway with a nice glove save to deny Madden's backhand deke. He would make a similar save late in the contest on Scott Gomez to help backstop the Rangers to their first win on home ice against New Jersey since a 4-3 OT triumph back on October 17, 2001.

"It felt really good," Lundqvist told reporters after being named the game's First Star. "I felt so happy to get that first win."

With Kevin Weekes sidelined with a groin strain, Lundqvist should make his second consecutive start Saturday night against Atlanta. Recently recalled former 2004 first round pick Al Montoya will backup.

Jagr Ties Mikita: With his fourth power play tally of the season on a blistering wrist shot shortside by Martin Brodeur, Jaromir Jagr tied Stan Mikita with his 541st career NHL goal for second place all-time among European goalscorers. Jagr trails only Jari Kurri, who finished his Hall of Fame career with 601. Jagr and Mikita are tied for 23rd on the NHL career goals list. Jagr is off to a quick start with six points (4-2-6) in five games this season.

Kondratiev Records First NHL Point: Rookie defenseman Maxim Kondratiev picked up his first NHL point when he assisted on Martin Rucinsky's third of the season to open the scoring Thursday. Kondratiev was acquired from Toronto as part of the Brian Leetch deal on March 3, 2004. He logged 17:38 of ice-time, registering one shot and was an impressive plus-three for the night. It was the 22-year-old Russian's best game so far as a Ranger, which could be a good sign for the organization.

Betts and Nieminen Tally First Goals As Rangers: On what was a strong performance for the Blueshirts, both Blair Betts and Ville Nieminen scored their first Ranger goals against NJ. Nieminen struck first to make it 2-0 when he benefited from a forced turnover by Jed Ortmeyer. In on Brodeur, Nieminen backhanded the puck by the Devil goalie for the Rangers second goal in 17 seconds during a three-goal first. It's safe to say the former Flame made the most out of his 12 shifts (7:23), also registering two hits.

Betts was acquired along with Greg Moore and Jamie McLennan (signed with Florida) in exchange for Chris Simon and a seventh round pick on March 6, 2004. He tallied the third goal putting home a Martin Straka rebound, putting a stamp on a terrific opening stanza against a quality opponent. In 12:30 of ice-time, Betts had four shots, won eight of 13 faceoffs and logged 1:38 shorthanded in helping kill all four New Jersey power plays.

Ward Registers Assist: Jason Ward picked up an assist on Nieminen's goal. He forced a neutral zone turnover which led directly to the goal. The ex-Canadien had a particularly strong game, earning coach Tom Renney's trust with 15:30 of ice, including some diligent penalty killing work (2:08). He led the Rangers with four takeaways and won the only two draws he took in a yeoman effort.

Ortmeyer Earns Assist: Jed Ortmeyer had an assist on the second goal of the night. In typical fashion, the gritty right wing outworked two Devils to create a turnover setting up Nieminen for the goal. In just 14 shifts, the popular Blueshirt had a hit and three takeaways.

Prucha Gets First Line Look: First-year player Petr Prucha was given a chance by Renney on the top line with Jagr and Michael Nylander. In just his second NHL game, the former 2002 eighth round pick logged 14:52 including an extensive look on the power play (3:34). For the game, he had one shot and a couple of near misses that might have produced his first NHL goal. One was a redirect attempt and the other was a shot fired over the net. Prucha just might have shown enough for the coaching staff to keep him on the first unit.

Rangers Continue Homestand Saturday: The Rangers (2-1-2) continue their four-game homestand against Atlanta (2-2-0) Saturday night at 7 PM. They also will host Florida Monday and the Islanders Wednesday.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Caps Outwork Rangers For 3-2 Win

After playing well in an OT loss to the Devils Saturday, the Rangers were outworked and outhustled by the Capitals in a 3-2 loss at The MCI Center Monday afternoon.

The Caps (2-2-0) were coming off an awful 8-1 defeat at the hands of the Thrashers. But against the Rangers, they played with a lot more determination.

It didn't start badly for the Rangers. They came out with some good shifts in the first period but a Jamie Lundmark hooking penalty seemed to change the momentum. After outshooting Washington 7-2 early on, the Blueshirts were outshot 5-3 to end a scoreless stanza.

The Rangers got on the board first in the second when they took advantage of a five-on-three power play. With Chris Clark and Jeff Friesen in the box, Jaromir Jagr one-timed a Tom Poti feed by Olaf Kolzig for his third of the season at 2:06. Poti and Michael Nylander had assists.

But any chance to get a two-goal lead was thwarted by Kolzig, who finished the game with 30 saves.

Washington tied the game 4:18 later. Off a turnover by Lundmark, who fell down leading to a three-on-one, Petr Sykora backhanded a Jeff Friesen rebound through Kevin Weekes at 6:24. Friesen and Andrew Cassels notched assists.

The Rangers would reclaim the lead a few minutes later. After failing on their third power play of the period, they got a break on the fourth one off some hustle by Jason Ward. On a Marcel Hossa shot which Kolzig looked to have, Ward crashed the net and got a piece of the puck to chip it in for a 2-1 lead with 9:42 left. It was second goal in two games.

Instead of getting momentum, the Rangers were sloppy with the puck in their end leading to turnovers and good Caps' chances. But Weekes kept them in front until a brutal end to the second.

With Jagr leading a rush with under 10 seconds remaining, he took a hard hit by Brian Sutherby behind the net which led directly to a Caps' odd-man rush. With the Rangers caught in a line change, Washington scored on a three-on-two with under a second left to tie it. Steve Eminger rebounded a Chris Clark shot by Weekes to make it 2-2 at 19:59. It was a fitting conclusion to a period which the Caps outshot the Rangers 17-10.

In the third, New York had a couple of early power play chances to retake the lead but Kolzig (12 third period saves) and the Caps' penalty killing unit got the job done.

The turning point came when Steve Rucchin was whistled for hooking, ending the second power play. Just 27 seconds later, Darius Kasparaitis took a lazy hooking penalty to give Washington a two-man advantage. It would prove costly when rookie Alexander Ovechkin scored his third of the season. The former 2004 number one overall selection found a Jamie Heward rebound and beat Weekes on the doorstep top shelf with 10:57 remaining. Heward and Bryan Muir assisted.

Though they received two more power plays on Clark minors late, the Rangers couldn't get much done. When they had chances, Kolzig stopped them, including robberies on Jagr and Ward. They finished 0-for-4 on the power play in the third, which summed up the day.

Weekes turned aside 25 of 28 shots.

Notes: Rangers (1-1-2) have next two days off before they return home to host Devils (2-1-0) Thursday night (7 PM)....D Marek Malik sat out with a sore groin....D Bryce Lampman was recalled from Hartford to take the place of D Jason Strudwick, who took a leave of absence for the death of his grandfather....LW Ville Nieminen returned from a groin injury to make season debut, replacing LW Ryan Hollweg in the lineup.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Vinny Looks To Spark Gang Green Against Bucs

With their season hanging in the balance, the Jets (1-3) are putting their faith in 42-year-old quarterback Vinny Testaverde to give their offense a spark Sunday at 1 PM against undefeated Tampa Bay (4-0) at Giants Stadium.

When he takes a snap, Testaverde will become the fourth oldest QB to ever start a game in the Super Bowl Era behind Steve DeBerg, Warren Moon and Doug Flutie.

Without Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler last week at Baltimore, the Jets struggled to get much done, only scoring three points and just eight first downs in a 13-3 loss.

With Curtis Martin (226 rushing yards) stymied on the ground thus far, Testaverde knows that the offense isn't clicking on all cylinders.

"Our lack of success has hurt our confidence a little bit offensively," Testaverde said. "We just have to get it up a little bit."

Coach Herm Edwards wants to see Testaverde find more of a rhythm with receivers than Brooks Bollinger did last week, just completing four-of-16 their way.

"At this point, I feel that Vinny's a veteran guy, we need a change a little bit as far as making some plays in the passing game," Edwards noted. "I think he can provide that."

It will be an uphill battle for the offense against the NFL's number one rated defense (220.3 total yards-per-game). The Bucs have allowed just 45 points (11.3 average) this season. They have eight sacks (Simeon Rice-3) and have also picked off six passes- Brian Kelly (3), Will Allen (2), Derrick Brooks (1).

The Jets defense looks to contain Brian Griese (6 TDs) through the air. Griese has two primary targets in second-year receiver Michael Clayton (17 receptions) and vet Joey Galloway (17-for-316, 3 TDs).

They could catch a break though in the backfield. Rookie Carnell Williams (447 rushing yards, 2 TDs) was held to just 13 yards on 11 carries last week against Detroit. He is questionable with a sore hamstring. If he can't go, Michael Pittman (79 rushing yards, 116 receiving) will get the call.

The Jets need big games from leading tackler Jonathan Vilma (48 tackles) and team leader John Abraham (three sacks). Eric Coleman (24 tackles, Int) and David Barrett (17 tackles, Int) also must come up big in the secondary.

But all eyes will be on local favorite Testaverde to see if he can provide a lift against a tough D. One thing is certain. It won't be easy.

Rangers Play Well Despite OT Loss To Devils

In their first visit to Continental Airlines Arena, the Rangers dropped a tough 3-2 loss to the Devils (2-1-0) in overtime Saturday night. Brian Rafalski scored the winner at 3:17, beating rookie netminder Henrik Lundqvist. Viktor Kozlov and Paul Martin picked up assists. Rafalski had three points (1-2-3) and Kozlov added a goal and an assist.

Despite falling to their Lincoln Tunnel rivals, the Rangers played an inspired game, outshooting the Devils 35-27.

Before the game, coach Tom Renney made changes to the lineup, inserting rookie Petr Prucha for Jamie Lundmark, Maxim Kondratiev for Tom Poti and gave Lundqvist his first career NHL start in place of Kevin Weekes.

The moves seemed to work with the Blueshirts getting off to a quick start in the first period; one they dominated with a surprising 13-1 edge in shots.

For the third straight game, they got on the board first when Jason Ward took advantage of a rare Martin Brodeur stickhandling gaffe. With Brodeur out behind the net, Ward stole the puck and wrapped it around just beyond the goal line. But a sprawling Brodeur got his stick on it to keep play moving which only added to the confusion. When the whistle finally sounded, referee Don VanMassenhoven properly asked for a video review, which confirmed that indeed Ward had scored his first goal as a Ranger 4:57 in to give them a 1-0 lead.

The goal gave New York a lift and they carried a majority of the play. Only some clutch goaltending by Brodeur (12 first period saves) kept the deficit at one for New Jersey. It allowed his team to tie the game. With the Rangers still ahead, the opportunistic Devils scored on their only shot of the period when Kozlov redirected a Rafalski point shot for his first of the season at 15:39. Rafalski and rookie Zach Parise notched assists.

Despite such a lopsided first, the teams were all squared.

The Rangers continued their diligent work on the forecheck in the second to draw an uncharacteristic five Devils penalties. After failing to take advantage of the first two, the Rangers retook the lead when Martin Rucinsky scored a power play goal at 8:32. Off a goalmouth scramble, which saw Brodeur rob Michael Nylander, Rucinsky deposited the rebound at the side of the net for his second of the season. Nylander and Martin Straka added helpers.

Shortly after, New Jersey had a goal taken away when it was ruled that Sergei Brylin made incidental contact with Lundqvist while Mogilny put a rebound into an open net.

Still in front, the Rangers had two more chances on the man-advantage to take a two-goal lead but Brodeur and the Devils' penalty killing unit tightened up to keep the score 2-1. After killing off a late New Jersey power play, the Rangers took the one-goal lead into the locker room. The Rangers outshot the Devils 26-8 thru two.

After two lackluster periods on home ice, New Jersey came out with much better energy in the third, outshooting the Rangers 17-6. Ultimately, that kind of effort resulted in the tying goal.

With Michal Rozsival off for hooking Parise a minute in, the Devils made it count when Alexander Mogilny beat Lundqvist at 2:14 from the slot for his second goal in two nights. Lundqvist looked to have it but when he tried to cover up, the puck trickled over the line. Scott Gomez and Rafalski tallied assists.

Feeding off the momentum, the Devils continued to apply pressure for the go-ahead goal but Lundqvist (16 third period saves) was equal to the challenge, including a point blank robbery of Mogilny from in close.

With the game knotted, Prucha almost made an impact in his first game. Though he didn't receive a ton of ice-time (8:03), he rang a shot off the post with under 10 minutes remaining and just missed wide on a one-timer.

With under nine minutes left in regulation, the Rangers killed off back-to-back penalties to keep the game tied. They had a chance late to capitalize on another Devil penalty but misfired on their eighth power play sending the game to OT.

Before Rafalski decided it, Brodeur denied Fedor Tyutin and stoned Rucinsky on the rebound from in close. He finished with 33 saves while Lundqvist stopped 24 of 27.

It was the second consecutive OT loss for the Rangers. But before the season began, would anyone have envisioned that they would be unbeaten in regulation and gotten four points in their first three games against stiff competition- Flyers, Canadiens, Devils?

There was plenty to like Saturday night.

Notes: Rangers (1-0-2) travel to Washington (1-2-0) for a matinee (1 PM) on Columbus Day....LW Ville Nieminen (groin) could return Monday to make his regular season debut.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Islanders Drop Opener To Sabres 6-4

In the season opener at Buffalo, the Islanders lost to the Sabres 6-4 in a wildly entertaining game Wednesday night.

With a new roster which featured ex-Sabres Miroslav Satan and Alezei Zhitnik, the Isles fell behind early when J.P. Dumont redirected a Toni Lydman shot for a power play goal 3:11 in with Mike York off for tripping. Lydman and Daniel Briere tallied assists. The goal was a bit fluky because after Dumont's redirection, it took an unlucky bounce off Janne Niinimaa's stick, fooling Rick DiPietro.

The Isles came right back to tie it when rookie Chris Campoli scored his first NHL goal 3:29 later when he put home a Trent Hunter rebound into a vacant net. Hunter and York assisted.

The rest of the first settled down with each team getting 10 shots.

Briere put the Sabres ahead 2-1 in the second when he beat DiPietro on a mini-breakaway going to the backhand at 5:57 unassisted. But after killing off two straight penalties, the Isles once again cameback to tie it at two when Alexei Yashin was credited with his first of the season off a Brent Sopel shot with 6:07 remaining.

But 2:01 later, Brian Campbell put the Sabres ahead for good when he one-timed a Chris Drury pass by DiPietro. Earlier in the play, Drury's diving effort to keep the puck in resulted in the goal. Drury and Teppo Numminen tallied helpers. The Sabres took the 3-2 lead into the locker room.

Early in the third, Maxim Afinogenov put Buffalo up 4-2 when he one-timed rookie Thomas Vanek's feed on an odd-man rush at 2:37. It was Vanek's first NHL point. Jochen Hecht also picked up an assist.

With the Sabres seemingly in control, a weird bounce resulted in an Isles goal. With Zhitnik just looking to dump the puck in from center ice, his shot trickled off a surprised Ryan Miller and into the net, suddenly making it a 4-3 game with 10:23 left. DiPietro was credited with his first assist of the season.

The unpredictable third continued when Briere scored his second of the night 45 seconds later from Dumont making it 5-3. But the Isles weren't done when Jason Blake got his first of the season on a power play from Sopel and York at 13:35.

That's as close as they got on a night when the Islanders never led. Afinogenov sealed the game for Buffalo with a power play empty net goal with 35 seconds remaining.

The Sabres (1-0-0) were two-for-eleven on the power play compared to the Isles' one-for-seven in a game where 18 power plays were awarded due to the NHL's new emphasis on obstruction. The 11 minors the Isles took didn't help them on this night.

Miller stopped 22 of 26 while DiPietro finished with 33 saves.

Islanders (0-1-0) return home to Nassau Coliseum to host the Hurricanes (0-1-0) Saturday night at 7 PM.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Rangers Shock Flyers

In the much anticipated return of NHL hockey where every team was in action for the first time since '28-29 when 10 teams existed, the one match-up considered to be a mismatch was the new look Rangers facing a stacked Flyers squad at Wachovia Center. Possibly drawing inspiration from Sports Illustrated picking them to finish last overall, the Rangers stunned the Flyers 5-3 in the Wednesday night Outdoor Life Network debut.

After falling behind 3-1 on rookie Mike Richards' first NHL goal at 7:23 of the second period, coach Tom Renney's Rangers dug deep, scoring four unanswered goals to pull off the upset.

With 6:33 left in the second, Michael Nylander was rewarded a penalty shot. But with a chance to cut the lead to one, his shot hit the post. Despite that miss, the Rangers kept coming and finally drew within one when Jamie Lundmark scored after a power play expired. On a broken play, Lundmark tallied his first of the season when he ripped a slapshot past Robert Esche with 3:04 remaining. The goal gave the Blueshirts some momentum heading to the third.

That's when the team's biggest star took over the game. With Jon Sim off for high sticking, Jaromir Jagr tied it beating Esche five-hole at 6:28. Martin Straka and Martin Rucinsky tallied assists.

Jagr made the Flyers pay again when Peter Forsberg went off for tripping Rucinsky. Taking a feed from Tom Poti, Jagr snapped a wrist shot off Esche's shoulder and into the net giving the Rangers a 4-3 lead just 4:58 later for his second of the night. He finished with three points (2-1-3).

"He's a great leader and he was the difference," Darius Kasparaitis told reporters afterwards on Jagr.

"If they let me shoot, they let me shoot," Jagr said. "That's fine with me. They covered everybody else. I'll take it any time."

After Jagr's second goal, Marcel Hossa potted a Steve Rucchin rebound into an open side on the next shift, 33 seconds later. Rucchin and rookie Ryan Hollweg notched assists. It was Hollweg's first NHL point.

After killing off a Dominic Moore penalty late, the Rangers outworked the more expensive Flyers at even-strength, playing the kind of determined hockey Renney promised. In particular, the fourth line of Moore, Hollweg and Jason Ward shined. The vets chipped in and Kevin Weekes turned aside 24 of 27 shots to seal the win.

The Rangers got off to a good start in the first when Jason Strudwick beat Esche at 9:31 for the game's first goal. Michael Nylander and Jagr registered assists. But the Flyers came right back 2:08 later to tie it. Off a mix-up between Blair Betts and Jed Ortmeyer, Simon Gagne converted a Forsberg pass on a two-on-one.

Mike Knuble gave the Flyers the lead on a power play. With Darius Kasparaitis in the box for high sticking, Knuble one-timed a Forsberg saucer pass by Weekes to put the Flyers up 2-1 at 13:54. It was Forsberg's second helper on the night. Eric Desjardins also picked up one.

It was the only power play goal Philadelphia (0-1-0) scored in 10 attempts. By contrast, the Rangers were two-for-four on a night when everything went right. For one day at least, the Rangers are tied for first in the Atlantic.

Rangers (1-0-0) host Montreal (1-0-0) at Madison Square Garden tonight at 7 PM.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hard Hits NHL Preview

After a long year off, the NHL finally returns. Every team will be in action to kick off the new season. This includes the much anticipated NHL debuts of the last two first overall picks, Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, who will play at home against Columbus while Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby starts on the road at New Jersey.

In a new cap era, more teams should be competitive and many rosters will reflect that after a flurry of activity in August. Most notably several NHL stars signed with new teams including Peter Forsberg and Derian Hatcher to Philadelphia, Scott Niedermayer to Anaheim, Nikolai Khabibulin and Adrian Aucoin to Chicago, Paul Kariya to Nashville, Jason Allison and Eric Lindros to Toronto, Ziggy Palffy and Sergei Gonchar to Pittsburgh, Brian Leetch to Boston, Adam Foote to Columbus, Miroslav Satan to the Islanders and Alexander Mogilny back to New Jersey. While this doesn't cover everyone, it gives fans an idea of how wild the free agency period was.

Some big names were also moved to free up cap space. Jeremy Roenick was traded to Los Angeles for almost nothing. Chris Pronger was dealt to Edmonton for Eric Brewer and prospects Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch. Michael Peca was shipped to Edmonton for Mike York and a conditional pick. Jeff Friesen, a cap casuality in New Jersey was dealt to the Capitals for a pick. The biggest trade was a blockbuster between Ottawa and Atlanta which sent Marian Hossa and Greg de Vries to the Thrashers in exchange for Dany Heatley.

The year off also impacted decisions for older stars. While Steve Yzerman and Dave Andreychuk returned to their teams, others decided to call it a career. Gone are future Hall of Famers Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Ron Francis but none of them will ever be forgotten for their impact on the game. Vincent Damphousse also called it a career.

With a new league starting up, several rule changes should be evident to increase the flow of games and entertain fans.In an attempt to increase offense, nets will be moved back two feet closer to the boards. The feeling here is that great players will be able to get more wraparound chances, creating more havoc for goalies. They also will be forced to adjust to new rules including goalie restrictions on equipment and emphasis on where they can play pucks, allowing them to between designated areas behind the net or anything in front. If a netminder violates these rules, a Delay of Game penalty shall be enforced.

Tag-up offsides returns after a decade. Pucks played in the neutral zone can be fired back in even if players are still in the zone. All they must do is touch-up at the blueline to get on-side. Two-line passes are allowed, which could lead to more odd-man rushes and breakaways but also more icings if they don't connect. There will be stricter enforcement of obstruction. Will it work or fade away like the past?

Another new rule includes a Delay of Game penalty when a player intentionally shoots the puck out of play. In the past, only goalies were penalized. It will force players to conform and could lead to more mistakes which might increase scoring chances. Also, if a team intentionally ices the puck, they will be prohibited from making a line change while the other team gets a fresh set of players. This will penalize opponents for stopping play and lead to tired players.

The instigator rule won't allow players to fight with less than five minutes left in regulation. If they do, it's an automatic game misconduct and one-game suspension. This rule was a panic move by the league due to past incidents at the end of games. Penalizing fighters who stick up for teammates makes no sense. Unfortunately, team enforcers, coaches and fans will have to deal with this unpopular decision.

One radical change is shootouts. If games are tied after five minutes of four-on-four in OT, a three player shootout per team will take place to decide which team earns the extra point. The points system is: 2 points for a win in regulation, OT or shootout, 1 point for an OT or shootout loss and no points rewarded for regulation defeats.

With basically everything covered, it's time to look at which teams improved enough to challenge the defending Cup champion Lightning and which teams could be in for long seasons.

Eastern Conference: On paper the Flyers, Lightning and Senators are the favorites. But the Bruins, Devils and Islanders should be right behind. Any of those six could wind up coming out of the East. The Canadiens should make the playoffs and might be a team top seeds want to avoid.

Predicted Order of Finish:

10.Maple Leafs


First Round: Flyers over Thrashers in 5, Lightning over Canadiens in 6, Islanders over Senators in 6, Bruins over Devils in 7

Conference Semis: Flyers over Islanders in 6, Bruins over Lightning in 6

Conference Champion: Bruins over Flyers in 7

Western Conference: The Sharks, Canucks and Flames look to be the class of the West. The Wings will have to contend with an improved Nashville squad to win the Central Division. The Avs and Stars should be good enough to make the playoffs but not go very far. The Predators are the dark horse who could make some noise.

Predicted Order of Finish:

*3.Red Wings
12.Blue Jackets


First Round: Sharks over Oilers in 5, Canucks over Stars in 6, Predators over Wings in 6, Flames over Avs in 6

Conference Semis: Sharks over Predators in 6, Flames over Canucks in 7

Conference Champion: Sharks over Flames in 7

Stanley Cup Winner: Sharks over Bruins in 6

Conn Smythe: Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks

Rangers Rebuild Lowers Expectations

For years, Ranger fans have wanted to see the team rebuild. With mostly overpaid vets underperforming the past seven seasons to miss the playoffs, there was an outcry for change.

At the '04 trade deadline, GM Glen Sather finally awoke, giving the public what they wanted. Gone were classic underachievers Alexei Kovalev, Petr Nedved and Vlad Malakhov. With a change in philosophy, Sather also unloaded Matt Barnaby, Chris Simon and Greg de Vries.

The biggest change was trading popular Ranger defenseman Brian Leetch to Toronto. The '94 Conn Smythe winner was a perennial All-Star who won two Norris Trophies and became one of the best Rangers in their history. He scored 240 goals and 741 assists for 981 points in 1129 games during his Ranger career. But ultimately, he'll always be remembered for his '94 performance where he led all scorers with 34 points (11-23-34) and a +19 rating, dominating in every facet to help the Rangers break a 54-year Cup drought.

In exchange for Leetch, Sather received Maxim Kondratiev, Jarkko Immonen, an '04 first round pick (Lauri Korpikoski-from Calgary) and an '05 second round choice (Michael Sauer). When the deal was announced, there was plenty of backlash from fans, particularly about the fashion in which Sather dealt Leetch. Not even informing him that he could be traded.

A year and a half later removed from the lockout, that blockbuster trade might produce early returns. Kondratiev is expected to make the Rangers and could see time as a fifth defenseman. Immonen will start at Hartford. Meanwhile, Leetch left Toronto to sign with Boston. He'll make his Garden return on November 20th in what should be an emotional scene.

One star who survived the purge was Jaromir Jagr. Jagr, acquired from Washington for Anson Carter on January 23, 2004, scored 15 goals and 14 assists for 29 points in 31 games as a Ranger. The two-time Cup winner ('91, '92 Penguins) and 10-time All-Star is one of the most dynamic forwards in the game. Since his rookie season in '91 when he tallied 27 goals, Jagr has scored 30-or-more in 13 straight NHL seasons. He's also won a Hart Trophy ('98-99), five Art Ross Trophies (led league in scoring) and an Olympic gold medal (Czech Republic-'98 Nagano).

Forwards: The Rangers need Jagr to dominate games this season if they want to compete. Sather added former Pen Martin Straka, who played with Jagr. They should play together with Michael Nylander. Nylander is a playmaking center who can setup goals.

Back for his third stint is Martin Rucinsky. Rucinsky registered 42 points with the club in '03-04 before being dealt to Vancouver. He re-signed with the club August 3rd. He should see time on the second line, power play and in shorthanded situations. Most likely, he'll play with former Anaheim captain Steve Rucchin. Rucchin is a two-way center who was acquired for Trevor Gillies. Either former '99 top pick Jamie Lundmark or recent acquisition Marcel Hossa could play with them.

Blair Betts, Jed Ortmeyer and Ville Nieminen should comprise the checking line. All played well in the preseason.

One rookie who could push for extra ice-time is Petr Prucha. The former '02 eighth round pick showed flashes of brilliance, notching a highlight reel goal against the Devils Martin Brodeur.

Dominic Moore, Ryan Hollweg and Jason Ward also could see time on the fourth line.

Defense: Darius Kasparaitis will be looked to for leadership. At the moment, the Blueshirts don't have a captain but Kasparaitis could be next in line following retired legend Mark Messier. He'll anchor the blueline with Fedor Tyutin. Tyutin got into 25 games in '03-04 and didn't look out of place. He's a solid skating stay-at-home defenseman.

If the Rangers are to surprise, they'll need Tom Poti to step up. Poti has plenty of offensive skills. He possesses a big shot and is a solid puckmoving D. He'll be asked to carry the load on the power play. If he can play well in his end, it would go a long way to the Blueshirts having any success.

Poti will play with free agent pickup Marek Malik (Vancouver). Malik finished second in plus-minus (35) in '03-04. He has struggled so far and must improve to justify the three-year $7.5 million contract Sather gave him.

Kondratiev and Michal Rozsival could round out the blueline. Both are solid skaters who can move the puck. Jason Strudwick or Dale Purinton also might see action.

Goalies: Kevin Weekes will be the number one to start the season. The 30-year-old Toronto native should see plenty of rubber and will be called upon to keep the Rangers in games. He's gotten better during exhibition, which is a good sign. If he falters, rookie Henrik Lundqvist will finally get a chance to prove how silly other GMs were in the 2000 Draft. Selected in the seventh round, Lundqvist has starred overseas in Sweden for Frolunda leading them to the championship in '04-05. He looked sharp in preseason and possesses a quick glove.

Coach: Tom Renney has a tough assignment ahead. Get maximum results from his vets and hope for some younger players to come through. He coached Vancouver from '96 to '98 going 39-53-9. He's supposed to work well with younger players. How he handles this situation will go a long way to determining if he's the right choice.

Prediction: Aside from the top two lines, this team will have trouble scoring. Jagr is the only legit 30-goal threat. Teams will try to shut him down forcing other Rangers to pick up the slack. The defense is very shaky. Poti has never been known to play well in his end and Malik could be a victim of the new rules. If Purinton or Strudwick play regularly, this club is in big trouble. Weekes and Lundqvist are a solid duo in net but how many times will they be hung out to dry? Barring a miracle, it will be the eighth straight season without playoffs.

Last in Atlantic, 14th East

Jets Offense Shutdown In Baltimore

The Jets were looking for third string quarterback Brooks Bollinger to have a successful debut in his first career start at Baltimore. Instead, it was too much to ask for against a determined Ravens D which held the Jets to eight first downs (152 total yards) in a 13-3 loss Sunday, their second consecutive defeat.

The Ravens (1-2) got their first win of the season, holding Curtis Martin to just 30 rushing yards on 13 carries. With the Jets (1-3) being careful on offense, Baltimore took away Martin and forced Bollinger to beat them. The third-year QB was 14-of-28 for 149 yards in place of starter Chad Pennington, whose out for the season with a torn rotator cuff. Second stringer Jay Fiedler was also out with a shoulder problem.

While Gang Green struggled offensively, the Ravens did enough on the ground to win the game. They ran for 115 yards including 81 from Jamal Lewis on 29 carries with a score. Chester Taylor also had 11 rushes for 32 yards. Backup QB Anthony Wright was 15-of-21 for 144 yards and one interception.

In a predictably lowscoring first half in which the Ravens held the Jets offense to 37 total yards, Baltimore got two Matt Stover field goals to take a 6-0 lead to the locker room.

But early in the second half, the Jets defense provided an early spark when David Barrett forced a Lewis fumble and Victor Hobson took the ball 43 yards to the Baltimore 1. However, that one yard that could have given New York the lead proved too tough to get. The Ravens D stiffened, stuffing Martin on first down, then forced Bollinger's bootleg out of bounds for a loss and again stopped Martin on third down to hold the Jets to a Mike Nugent 21-yard field goal making it 6-3.

"That's one of the most disappointing things of the day," Bollinger said. "The (bootleg) we ran down there, I should have thrown that away. We ended up losing a couple of yards on it."

Up by three, Baltimore immediately responded with a crucial 13 play 71-yard scoring drive that resulted in a Lewis TD from one yard out, putting them ahead 13-3 late in the third quarter. On a day where the Jets offense struggled, that would be enough.

Bollinger finally moved them down field on their final drive, completing a 16-yard pass to Laveranues Coles and hooking up with Justin McCareins for 32 yards. But the drive stalled on the Baltimore 30 when Bollinger's 10-yard pass to Derrick Blaylock was short on fourth-and-16 with 2:38 left.

Baltimore ran out the clock to seal the win.

Monday, October 03, 2005

New York Hockey Report Debuts Monday

The New York Hockey Report is a show that features myself along with host Joe McDonald and co-host Gary Harding. It focuses on each local hockey team and will air every Monday night from 8:05-9 PM.

I cover the Devils while Joe has the Rangers and Gary takes the Islanders. Each week, we'll try to bring in live guests and give our takes on the '05-06 season. It finally kicks off Wednesday when all 30 teams take the ice for the first time in a year a half since Tampa Bay won the Cup.

Tonight's guests were Daily News Ranger beat writer John Dellapina and Ranger defenseman Tom Poti.

Please check it out and feel free to comment.