Saturday, October 08, 2005

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.

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