Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bollinger Looking To Make Difference For Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ- Brooks Bollinger might have come up short in Sunday night's 21-19 loss to the Saints but it wasn't because he was ineffective. Instead, the fourth year quarterback out of Wisconsin was an efficient 19-of-28 for a career best 251 yards and a touchdown- earning praise from Coach Herm Edwards.

"I thought [Brooks] did a great job," said Edwards. "And he made some good throws. Moved the ball offensively."

Though Bollinger did a solid job of running the offense without any turnovers, the 26-year-old former 2003 sixth round pick wasn't satisfied with the final outcome.

"It's just disappointing. When you're a team in a situation like us, you just want to win so bad and obviously since I've been starting, I haven't won one," Bollinger explained. "So I really wanted to help us win a game. To come up short again, it's tough."

Twice down the stretch, Bollinger had his team in position for a winning field goal but couldn't get enough yards on the final drive for rookie kicker Mike Nugent to win it. He came up just short from 53 yards out with 10 seconds left.

The Grand Forks North Dakota native took some responsibility for failing to field a low Pete Kendall snap cleanly, which hurt his team's chances.

"I should've got it. Just my momentum was kind of not under me and I should've at least fielded it and been able to get it off," he pointed out.

One of the positives from Sunday was Bollinger's poise in the pocket. His ability to make plays on the run should be something Gang Green fans continue to see.

"It's a credit to the way [Martin] been running the ball, that we were able to do some play action stuff and it worked well for us tonight."

Aside from hitting Justin McCareins with a perfect 27-yard TD pass, Bollinger had good chemistry with second-year wideout Jerricho Cotchery. He connected with Cotchery four times for 72 yards, including a 33-yard pass early on which was a career long for both players. Bollinger later eclipsed that with a 36-yarder to McCareins.

Regarding Cotchery, Bollinger had some nice things to say. "[Jericho] is a great football player. He's smart. He's going to be a really good player for this team in this league for a long time. He's getting his chance and he's doing good things and it's something we've seen for a long time."

One thing becomes evident about Bollinger. He wants to help get the Jets back into the win column. With a little more experience underneath his belt, maybe it will happen at New England Sunday.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Mets Taking Page Out Of Yankee Book

In the span of four days, the Mets acquired slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado from Florida and signed ex-Phillie closer Billy Wagner to a king's ransom of $43 million over four years- making him the highest paid closer in baseball.

You have people touting Mets GM Omar Minaya as some sort of genius with these moves. Oh really? But it had nothing to do with taking advantage of unlimited resources available. If Minaya is such a bright executive, how come Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran wasn't enough last season? The bottom line with bringing in Delgado and Wagner is this. If they get the Amazins back to the postseason, only then will it be considered a success.

Who's to guarantee that Delgado and Wagner automatically put the Mets at the top of the NL East when every year, Bobby Cox's Braves always find a way to finish first? Oh, I forgot. The Mets are doing things differently now. They are now big time and challenging all sorts of payroll records Steinbrenners' Yankees have set. And what does it mean exactly when you've seen the past five Yankee ball clubs fail miserably when it counted? Well, at least they got to October. Something which remains to be seen with the new Mets cashcow.

Nobody can predict how good they'll be. In 2005, Pedro nicknamed his new team "The New Mets." Unfortunately, nothing changed at Shea Stadium unless you consider finishing over .500 some big accomplishment. As if that's some sort of measuring stick.

One thing is certain. Minaya means business. After making Wagner higher paid than the best finisher in the game Mariano Rivera, who will he overpay next? They're rumored to be after free agent catchers Bengie Molina and Ramon Hernandez. No doubt, both are solid backstops who are younger than Mike Piazza and would be welcome additions to this Win Now philosophy. But at what cost?

Will Delgado work out for the Mets? He adjusted well to the senior circuit, finishing with 33 homers and 115 RBI's in Florida. Don't you find it ironic how when the Mets introduced him at Monday's press conference that he indicated that he felt the Marlins gave him a better chance to make the playoffs last winter. So what changed? Well, for one thing, the usual Florida firesale. And for another, the Mets were looking to upgrade at first base and get some extra protection for Beltran in the lineup cause they sure as heck didn't need it for the team's best player, David Wright.

He certainly should give New York a solid middle of the order with the aforementioned Beltran, Wright along with Cliff Floyd. The question is how will he handle New York? Delgado has already said that the whole protesting the Iraqi War during "God Bless America" won't be an issue. What the Mets are hoping for is that he doesn't turn into another Mo Vaughn. Though unlike Mo, Delgado should stay on the field long enough to make an impact.

As for Wagner, he's been an elite closer for a decade pitching for Houston and then Philadelphia. The small town country boy from Tannersville, Virginia insists that pitching for the Phillies the past two seasons will help him prepare for New York. Philly might be a tough town but it's not The Big Apple. And if Wagner thinks he won't get anymore phone calls at 3 AM, he better reevaluate the situation. He's here not because he wanted to be a Met but because they were willing to guarantee a fourth year at an astronomical figure. That's why suddenly Wagner changed his tune over the weekend about it becoming a "one-horse race."

Now that Wagner is on board, he's here with Delgado to help get the Mets back to the postseason for the first time since 2000. The flamethrowing southpaw has been reliable in the past and can get it up to 100 MPH. He'll be asked to do the same thing here, making Mets fans forget Braden Looper. Hopefully that includes taking the ball in big games before huge crowds.

After the Mets suddenly gave up on Mike Jacobs along with pitching prospect Yusmeiro Petit to get Delgado, how much are they willing to trade for Alfonso Soriano? There's not much separating the Mets from the Yankees these days. Pretty soon, you won't be able to tell the difference.

One thing isn't for sale though. You can't buy team chemistry.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Jets Fall Just Short Against Saints

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ- In a tough year for the Jets, it got even tougher when they dropped their sixth consecutive game in a 21-19 loss to the Saints (3-8) Sunday night at The Meadowlands to fall to 2-9.

In a battle of struggling two win teams, the Saints snapped their six-game losing streak and improved to 1-1 at Giants Stadium in a trying season. Earlier this year in what was deemed a "home game" due to Hurricane Katrina, they fell to the Giants 27-10. This time, they fared better as the road team. Aaron Brooks passed for 181 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with three different receivers for scores.

After Jets rookie kicker Mike Nugent's career best fourth field goal from 38 yards out put New York ahead 19-14 four seconds into the fourth quarter, Brooks led the Saints on an 11-play 81-yard drive. His 30-yard strike to Devery Henderson put New Orleans up 20-19. Their two-point conversion was negated due to offensive pass interference on Zach Hilton, forcing them to settle for John Carney's PAT to put them up two with 8:32 remaining.

The Jets would get two chances to take the lead. After Brooks Bollinger hit Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles on two third downs to get to the New Orleans 34, he was called for intentional grounding on a key second down, which took them out of field goal range.

After burning their timeouts and forcing the Saints to punt, New York got the ball back with 1:37 left. Bollinger, who threw for 251 yards and a score to become the first Jets quarterback to go over 200 since Chad Pennington in Week One- completed a 21-yard pass to Doug Jolley at the Saints 33. But two plays later, he fumbled Pete Kendall's snap to put the Jets in a desperate third-and-long at the Saints 37 with the clock running down.

"I should've got it. Just my momentum was kind of not under me and I should've at least fielded it and been able to get it off," Bollinger said.

After a three-yard Cotchery reception, it set the stage for Nugent. But from 53 yards out, Nugent's kick just missed the goal posts with 10 seconds remaining.

"I thought [Nugent] made the last one," said Coach Herm Edwards. "But it's a little cold out there and probably didn't get all he could get. We lost some yards two plays before that. He would have been in good shape. It would have been nice if he had made it. It would have been a good win for all of us cause we need it right about now."

"It's just disappointing," added Bollinger. "When you're a team in a situation like us, you just want to win so bad and obviously since I've been starting, I haven't won one. So I really wanted to help us win a game. To come up short again, it's tough."

Early on, some history was made when Martin's 23-yard run put him over 14,000 rushing yards for his career- becoming only the fourth player to ever accomplish it. He joined exclusive company with Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. Later in the game, Martin also became the third back to have 3,500 carries in an NFL career (Smith and Payton).

"As a professional you never trade off a win for a milestone," Martin said. "For me it doesn’t matter if we’re 2-60, we’re going to keep fighting.”

"[Martin] passed a big mark for him and hopefully he's going to get 1,000 yards so he can pass another big mark," Edwards said.

The Jets got on the board first on a Nugent 29-yard field goal with 1:56 to go in the opening quarter. But the Saints came right back when Brooks found Donte' Stallworth from 21 yards out to lead 7-3 with 12:59 left in the half.

Helped by 19 Martin rushing yards on their next drive, the Jets cut it to 7-6 on a Nugent 45-yard kick- his longest this year. But New Orleans came right back with a 74-yard scoring drive. After Brooks hit Joe Horn on a third down, Shaun Ellis was called for roughing the passer to help setup Brooks' second TD. On the next play, Hilton caught a 15-yard TD pass to put the Saints up 14-6 with 2:41 left.

Some bad luck followed for Gang Green when a booth review overturned an apparent Coles TD. They ruled that he didn't have control of the football when he came down in the end zone. The questionable call forced the Jets to settle for a Nugent 41-yard FG to go into half time down 14-9.

"Don't need to argue about it," Edwards said. "They made the call and obviously they looked on the monitor and felt he didn't score. Still had chances to win the game."

Bollinger later gave the Jets a 16-14 lead with a perfect 27-yard strike to Justin McCareins for his first TD of the season.

"I thought Brooks did a great job. And he made some good throws. Moved the ball offensively. Just couldn't score," Edwards said.

"We had our chances. Just couldn't quite make the plays down the stretch."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Rangers Outlast Caps In Historic Fashion

In a game people will be talking about for a while, the Rangers won their fifth straight in improbable fashion- outlasting the Capitals (8-13-2) 3-2 in an NHL record 15 round shootout in front of a raucous capacity Madison Square Garden crowd Saturday night.

Unable to decide a winner in regulation or overtime, the two teams took turns sending out shooters to see who would get the extra point. But unlike most shootouts this season, it wasn't your normal finish. After second shooters Andrew Cassels and Michael Nylander scored, it took until the sixth round for anyone to beat Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Washington counterpart Olie Kolzig. When Brian Willsie beat Lundqvist upstairs, it put the Blueshirts on the brink. But Ville Nieminen shot through Kolzig's legs to tie it at two. The best drama was yet to come.

Remarkably, 14 consecutive players were either denied by the netminders or missed. But when defenseman Bryan Muir went stickside on Lundqvist in Round 14, the Caps were once again one Kolzig stop away from their fourth shootout win of the season. However, reserve defenseman Jason Strudwick had other ideas. Dressed up front for the contest, Strudwick came through to tie it at three when he wristed one past Kolzig.

After Lundqvist slid across to deny Matt Bradley's forehand deke, the unbelievable conclusion was provided by stay-at-home D Marek Malik. With Kolzig on his game, Malik tried a circus-like move which some of the best have pulled off. In on the one-time Vezina winner, Malik went between his legs with the puck and roofed it inside the crossbar popping the water bottle to give the Rangers a 4-3 shootout win, which improved them to 4-1 in SO's.

While Malik's goal was one for the highlight reel, his reaction afterwards was priceless for a player who had scored just 27 goals in 488 previous games. The smooth 6-5 Czech didn't celebrate much, instead skating back to his bench with a stone look on his face as if to say, 'Yes, I did that. Now come congratulate me.'

"I was watching everything before me," he told reporters afterwards. "Olie was unbelievable, he stopped everything from shots, moves. I just thought to myself, 'Maybe I'll surprise him.' I tried the move and it worked."

"You have to have guts to do that move," said Jaromir Jagr, whose illegal stick penalty almost was his team's undoing in OT. "In front of 20,000 people watching you, it's not that easy to do."

Having played a very busy schedule recently, the Rangers came out flat in the first. Despite being outshot 17-4 by Washington, they got the first goal when Jason Ward tallied shorthanded for the club's first SH goal of the season. Off a forced turnover, Ward came in alone on Kolzig and beat him five-hole for the unassisted goal at 17:16.

On the first shift of the second, New York increased its lead to two when Jed Ortmeyer rebounded a Dominic Moore shot 14 seconds in. However, the Caps got on the board just 3:18 later when Chris Clark deflected a Jamie Heward shot past Lundqvist. Alexander Ovechkin added a helper.

Shortly after, Kolzig robbed Petr Prucha to keep it 2-1. Off a Jagr pass to Prucha in the slot, Kolzig slid across to deny the 23-year-old rookie. The big save proved pivotal minutes later when Willsie rebounded home a Matt Pettinger shot from in close to tie it at 10:36. Kolzig also stopped Prucha again to keep the game tied heading to the third.

Both teams had chances to go ahead. Jed Ortmeyer's shorthanded break was thwarted by a hustling Ovechkin stickcheck. Lundqvist blockered away a Chris Clark chance a man down. Blair Betts was also stopped by Kolzig.

In the extra session, despite starting down four-on-three due to Jagr's illegal stick infraction, the Rangers outshot the Capitals 6-2. Neither team was able to break through nor could they predict what happened afterwards.

Making his first start since last Sunday's win against Boston, Lundqvist made 35 saves and 12 more in the record shootout. Kolzig turned aside 24 plus 11.

Notes: Fedor Tyutin returned to the lineup from a fractured index finger. ... Steve Rucchin missed his second game in a row with a sore back. ... Tom Poti did not play the third or OT due to a groin strain but might have been able to go for the shootout. ... Jagr was held without a point for only the fourth game all season. Rangers improved to 1-3 when he doesn't record a point. ... Kevin Weekes missed the game with a bruised ankle suffered in Atlanta on Thanksgiving. Chris Holt was recalled from Charlotte to backup Lundqvist. ... Both teams combined to go 0-for-12 on the power play- Washington (0-7) New York (0-5). ... Rangers (16-7-3) get a much needed four days off before hosting Pittsburgh (7-10-6) Thursday.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Rangers Give Thanks In Atlanta

This season, the revamped Rangers have had much to be thankful for. Things continued to go their way in Atlanta with a 6-3 victory on Thanksgiving for their fourth straight win. It avenged an ugly 7-4 Thanksgiving loss three years ago at Phillips Arena.

Entering play, the Blueshirts had played more games than any other team. With the win which improved them to 15-7-3 in game number 25, a team picked near the bottom of the NHL now sits alone at the top of the East with 33 points. A message coach Tom Renney posted on the bulletin board before they took the ice.

However, it didn't come as easy the score would indicate. Unable to bury some early chances in the first, the Rangers found themselves behind when Marian Hossa converted on Atlanta's first power play, beating starter Kevin Weekes with a backhand from in front at 6:38. Hossa's 10th of the season was assisted by Scott Mellanby and Jaroslav Modry.

A couple of minutes later, New York dodged a bullet when Hossa's centering feed from in close deflected off the post on another PP. Not long after, they tied the game when Jason Ward beat Steve Shields on a wraparound at 12:06. On in place of Jaromir Jagr, who missed a shift due to an unknown issue, Ward retrieved the puck behind the net and shifted to his backhand to score his third of the season. Michael Nylander and Ville Nieminen added assists.

With Steve Rucchin out with a sore back, Renney shifted Martin Straka off the top line to center the second unit at the beginning of the game. However, late in the first, Renney changed it up putting Straka with Jagr and fellow Czech rookie Petr Prucha. After nearly taking the lead late, Renney kept them intact for the second. The move along with putting Nieminen and Ward with Nylander paid off.

Taking advantage of a shaky Shields, Prucha chipped home a backhand rebound for his third goal in four games (sixth of season). Jagr and Jason Strudwick assisted 59 seconds in for a 2-1 lead. Just 1:12 later, Nylander notched his eighth off a soft rebound of a Ward shot to end Shields' night (3 GA on 13 shots).

But right after Bob Hartley pulled Shields for Michael Garnett, the Thrashers came right back 41 seconds later to cut it to 3-2 when Marc Savard skated through a maze of Rangers to beat Weekes five-hole for his seventh of the season.

After Garnett made some timely saves, Slava Kozlov tied it on the power play with 3:21 left in the period. Off a two-on-one rush, Mellanby setup Kozlov on the doorstep for his fifth of the season. Just when Atlanta had the momentum, the game's most dynamic player Jagr grabbed it back 1:19 later with a vintage goal. Setup by linemates Straka and Prucha, Jagr took the puck on right wing, then moved to the slot and ripped a shot top shelf for his NHL leading 21st of the season to make it 4-3.

After a big penalty kill at the beginning of the third, the Rangers lost Kevin Weekes to an ankle injury 2:20 in. When a Thrasher accidentally knocked the net off its mooring, part of it hit the back of Weekes' right ankle. He was helped off the ice by Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay.

Forced to come in ice cold off the bench, Henrik Lundqvist fought off some jitters on a Hossa shot but settled down. With his team playing well in front of him, he stopped all six shots he saw including a tough save of a Mellanby shorthanded chance.

When Blair Betts converted a Marcel Hossa pass in front to put the Rangers up 5-3 with 11:51 remaining, it gave the team enough breathing room. To show how in sync this team is, Rucchin's replacement Chad Wiseman notched his first NHL assist on the goal in his first game of the season.

Jed Ortmeyer added an empty net goal with 43 seconds to go.

Notes: Weekes picked up the win, finishing with 16 saves in 42 minutes. He was on crutches but the team won't know the extent of the injury until tomorrow. ... Jagr's two points increased his league-leading total to 39 points (21-18-39). He has 10 points during the Rangers' four-game win streak. ... In relief of Shields, Garnett stopped 17 of 19. ... Rangers were 0-for-5 on the man-advantage. They return home Saturday to face Washington (8-13-1) at 8 PM. Caps took the first meeting 3-2 at The MCI Center October 10.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Hard Hits: What We Have To Be Thankful For

This Thanksgiving, most of us will celebrate the holiday with family in style feasting on turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings. It's only one of the best American traditions. Truth be told, this is my favorite time of year. It reminds me of all that's good in life. I've been blessed to have two great parents who have always been there along with a great brother who I consider my best friend.

I enjoy the cold weather and try to take advantage of the days without rain or snow by getting out for walks in the park. Sure, you have to bundle up but it's always worth it. There's something about the crispness of the air. It's just better for some reason.

In any event, this column usually covers a particular topic in sports. But this week's a little different. There is plenty to be thankful about when it comes to athletics. So, let's examine what there is to appreciate when we follow our teams and players:

1.That the two New York baseball teams can compete every year without the financial difficulties that Florida and Tampa Bay deal with.

2.That the Giants are giving us the kind of football season we expected from the Jets. That Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress connection is darn good.

3.Sadly, the Jets are just thankful that the season is almost over. At least they still have Jonathan Vilma.

4.That Larry Brown got all that money up front from Jim Dolan to coach these Knickerbockers. At least they drafted Channing Frye.

5.That Jason Kidd has Richard Jefferson on his left and Vince Carter on his right to lob the ball up to.

6.That the Rangers actually have a pulse this season and play with a passion not seen in years. It always helps to have a motivated Jaromir Jagr.

7.That the Devils are still waiting for Patrik Elias to return to see how good they are.

8.That the Islanders don't play Ottawa today to ruin their holiday. At least Chris Campoli is playing well.

9.That St. John's basketball won't be a laughingstock anymore in its second year under Coach Roberts. Plus Showtime Hill and Anthony Mason Jr. should be fun to watch.

10.At least Seton Hall doesn't have to play Duke again on their schedule.

11.If Rutgers can scratch out one more win, they'll definitely go to a Bowl game even after their embarrassing loss to Louisville.

12.To watch Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush for one more year try to three-peat at USC.

13.To see Charlie Weis make Notre Dame football relevant again on Saturdays.

14.Feel great for Joe Paterno, whose Penn State Nittany Lions have silenced all the critics and will play in a BCS game in January.

15.Picture Texas QB Vince Young making life difficult for USC unlike Oklahoma's Jason White last year.

16.Enjoy these preseason college basketball tournaments with games like Michigan State-Gonzaga, Arizona-Michigan State and Gonzaga-Uconn all going down to the wire.

17.It also helps to hear Dick Vitale and Bill Raftery in midseason form with great enthusiasm, "Baby!"

18.How great it is to have the NHL back on ice and see an improved product that keeps fans interested.

19.Watching Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin show that they're the real deal and will be the new faces of hockey for years.

20.Being able to watch kids compete on the hardwood during a Thanksgiving Eve Staten Island tradition between neighborhood rivals Curtis and St. Peters.

21.That ESPN posterboy Terrell Owens won't be on our TVs for the rest of this football season.

22.That LeBron James really is this good already and will only get better.

23.That the NBA has two talented rookie guards like Chris Paul and Deron Williams who will be stars for years to come.

24.That the shootout hasn't turned off NHL fans. Not when they jump out of their seats in anticipation to see what happens.

25.Watching Roger Federer play tennis like a Van Gogh work, inventing shots from difficult angles. Only the best player of his generation. Sorry Pete.

26.That James Blake could revive American tennis with a quarterfinal show against Andre Agassi that people will still be talking about years from now.

27.That aside from her looks, Maria Sharapova can actually compete for a slam title at any event. But could comeone please get her father Yuri to shutup?

28.That the women's game could have the variety that it does, making it truly unpredictable.

29.The prospect of Hot Stove is underway creating lots of anticipation for pitchers and catchers. Less than 11 weeks to go!

30.That in tough times, sports can take the stress away and allow people to enjoy individual athletic prowess at its best.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there who reads this column and enjoys the good that sports has to offer! Always remember that there are people who are less fortunate on days like this, which makes us appreciate it more.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Jagr Shootout Goal Lifts Rangers Over Sabres

Jaromir Jagr's shootout winner allowed the Rangers to pick up two points in a 3-2 win at Buffalo (11-9-1) Tuesday night at HSBC Arena. It was the team's third straight win and improved them to 14-7-3 heading into a Thanksgiving match with Atlanta (8-11-2).

In an unconventional finish, Michael Nylander and Jagr beat Martin Biron, who replaced a hobbled Mika Noronen after Martin Straka scored on the first shot. Daniel Briere and Ales Kotalik beat Kevin Weekes on dekes to the glove side. With it tied at two, Jagr- who was 0-for-3 including a broken stick against the Isles' Rick DiPietro- went to his patented forehand deke and beat Biron to put the pressure on Chris Drury. When Weekes closed the five-hole on Drury, New York won in Buffalo for the first time since 2002. It also improved them to 3-1 in shootouts.

On a night when Buffalo retired former captain Danny Gare's number 18 in a pregame ceremony, the Rangers were under siege against an inspired Sabres club seeking its fourth consecutive win. Despite having the game's first four power plays, New York generated very little. Both Weekes and Noronen were sharp in keeping the contest scoreless through the first. Weekes was tested right away by Ales Kotalik and Tim Connolly while Noronen was helped by two right posts hit by Jagr, who earlier this season drew iron a few times in a 3-1 defeat at Buffalo.

The game remained scoreless until the Sabres' fourth ranked power play capitalized on a full two minute five-on-three. With Tom Poti and Ville Nieminen in the box, after some stellar penalty killing from Marek Malik, Michal Rozsival and Blair Betts; Buffalo finally got it setup down low. When Drury one-timed a Maxim Afinogenov pass from the slot inside the far post, Buffalo had the lead 8:10 into the second. But the lead was shortlived when just 4:46 later, Jagr one-timed home a Martin Straka pass to beat Noronen for his league-tying 20th goal (Flyers Simon Gagne). Nylander picked up an assist.

With the game tied, both teams traded chances, forcing each goalie to come up with difficult saves. Weekes denied Briere and Taylor Pyatt. With less than a minute left in the second, Noronen made the save of the night when he robbed Straka on the doorstep with an acrobatic pad stop. Off a Buffalo turnover, Nylander fed Straka but a sprawling Noronen's outstretched leg denied Straka of a certain goal. With Noronen down, Jagr hit his third post of the night to keep the game knotted.

Making his second start in a row, Noronen continued to baffle the Rangers early in the third. After stopping Dominic Moore, Noronen slid across to stone Jed Ortmeyer's rebound. It proved pivotal as a few minutes later, Buffalo retook the lead on a Jay McKee blast from the point. Off some hard work from Pyatt down low, he beat Maxim Kondratiev to a loose puck and chipped the puck up the boards. Adam Mair then chipped it to a pinching McKee, who one-timed the puck off the far post for a 2-1 lead with 8:16 left.

But all season, the Rangers had been very resilient. Once again, they would rise up to even the game. With Buffalo changing their D, New York's top line went to work. Off the rush, Nylander drew four Sabres at the blueline, then fed Jagr, who wristed a shot which rebounded out to Nylander at the left side of the net. From a difficult angle, Nylander hit the twine to tie it 2-2 with 4:14 remaining.

However, the Rangers weren't out of trouble yet. After Mike Grier left his feet on a borderline hit on Darius Kasparaitis seconds earlier, Jagr was penalized for taking down McKee along the boards with 2:15 to go. But the Rangers penalty kill got it done, allowing Weekes to see one harmless Kotalik shot to force overtime.

In the OT, the Rangers had a chance to win it on a four-on-three PP but Noronen stopped the lone Jagr shot to send it to a wild finish.

Notes: With his two points, Jagr moved ahead of the Flyers Peter Forsberg to take the league lead in scoring with 37 points (20-17-37). He needs just three more goals to tie Guy LaFleur (560) on the NHL career list. ... Weekes finished with 37 saves while Noronen made 25. ... Rangers won for only the second time without scoring a power play goal. ... The retirement of Gare's number was just the fifth in Sabres history (Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, Rene Robert and Tim Horton). Gare played seven seasons with Buffalo from 1974-81, totaling 267 goals, 233 assists for 500 points in 503 games.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Nylander's Four Points Enough Against Canes

Coming off their worst defeat of the season, the Rangers bounced back with a hard fought 4-3 win over Carolina (14-4-1) in a rematch at The Garden Saturday afternoon. Despite a sore ankle which kept him out of practice Friday, Michael Nylander's goal and three assists helped the Blueshirts snap a two-game losing streak. Factoring in all the scoring, Nylander's four points were one off a career best five established his rookie season with the Hartford Whalers on April 7, 1993.

Much sharper than at Carolina two nights ago, the Rangers scored first off some hard work from the top unit of Nylander, Martin Straka and Jaromir Jagr. Held to just one unassisted Nylander goal in a 5-1 loss Thursday, the number one line combined for eight points (2-6-8). On a cycle off the back boards, Straka one-timed Jagr's misdirection pass from a sharp angle to beat Martin Gerber for his third tally of the season at 4:14. It was the first of three assists for Jagr with Nylander adding a secondary assist.

But just 6:20 later, Carolina leading scorer Eric Staal tied the game at one. Taking advantage of a Nylander giveaway, Staal came in two-on-one with Erik Cole and fired a shot past Kevin Weekes for his 14th of the season at 10:34. The goal was unassisted.

However, Nylander helped New York reclaim the lead on a power play 4:48 later. Off a Petr Prucha rebound, Nylander caught a break when Carolina defenseman Aaron Ward inadvertently put the puck into his own net. Nylander was credited with the unassisted goal to give his team a 2-1 lead at 15:22.

Prucha increased the margin to two 9:22 into the second when he one-timed home a Jagr pass to convert the Rangers' second power play goal of the game. With Carolina down two men, they worked the puck around to Nylander, who fed Jagr at the right wing. With Aaron Ward just out of the box, Jagr one-timed a pass to an open Prucha on the doorstep. It was Prucha's fourth of the season and first in seven games since a similar PPG in a win over New Jersey two weeks ago.

Through two periods, the Rangers outshot Carolina 24-16. Ironically, the total was 24-17 Rangers thru two the other night. Only this time the Rangers were up two instead of down and deservedly so.

When Jagr somehow slipped a pass over Ward's stick to setup Michal Rozsival for another PP tally and first as a Ranger, it put them up 4-1 with 10:50 remaining.

But Carolina didn't quit. Just 2:37 later off a faceoff win, Niklas Nordgren redirected a Mike Commodore shot from the point to cut it to 4-2 with 8:13 left.

Minutes later, Jed Ortmeyer had a chance to put the game out of reach but missed on a Dominic Moore feed off a two-on-none he created. It opened the door for the Canes to get closer. They did when Rozsival was whistled for interference with under three minutes left.

After Staal hit the crossbar with a wide open net, coach Peter Laviolette pulled Gerber for a six-on-four. Justin Williams rebounded a Frantisek Kaberle blast to cut the deficit to one with 1:26 to go. Despite a final frantic minute, the Rangers held on for the victory, which wasn't assured until a hustling Ortmeyer broke up a play and skated the puck out.

Notes: Against his ex-team, Weekes finished with 28 saves while Gerber turned aside 28 of 32. ... Rookie defenseman Fedor Tyutin sat out with a non-displaced left finger fracture and is listed as day-to-day. Jason Strudwick replaced him in the lineup. ... Fedor Fedorov cleared waivers and was designated for assignment to Hartford. ... Rangers recalled left wing Chad Wiseman. ... Rangers (12-7-3) take on Boston (7-8-5) Sunday night at 7:30 PM.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Marshall Devils Spark Plug

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ- On a team which possesses talented forwards such as Patrik Elias, Alexander Mogilny, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Viktor Kozlov and Zach Parise, Devils right wing Grant Marshall is a gritty forward who provides energy for the club every night. Not the most skilled, Marshall relies on hard work to get the job done.

Asked about his role, Marshall said, "It's pretty simple. Just bring a lot of energy, physical play. I can move up and down any line I think."

Whether it's in a checking role or on the power play to provide some muscle up front, the 32-year-old Mississauga Ontario native will do whatever it takes to help his club win.

"I'm not the flashiest player which is kind of okay to be. Just work hard."

Marshall spoke of his recent hot streak. Entering Friday night against Montreal, he had two goals and three assists in the past three games. He had a chance to extend the streak but the puck slid off his stick on a breakaway.

"The hands came in the way there," he remarked. "I think all year, I've been working hard but things just don't happen for a reason. Good fortune as well. Things bouncing my way and you get on that kind of roll with certain players and kind of roll with it."

Regarding his team's hard fought 5-3 triumph Friday, the personable forward said, "Tonight was a big win for us. ... We regrouped and showed a lot of character in the third. We bounced back with a couple of goals."

In his 10-year NHL career, Marshall has won two Stanley Cups with the '99 Stars and '03 Devils. When asked about which one stood out, he gave a reasonable response.

"It's hard. People always ask me that. My first one. It's always your first one. It's always very special. But I was injured in the Finals that year and coming here and being able to contribute, play every game and help out was probably one of the most special things for me."

In the '03 Devils run Marshall played very well, finishing with six goals and two assists for eight points. He's best known for scoring the triple overtime Game Five Second Round clincher over Tampa Bay and setting up Jeff Friesen with a brilliant backhand pass for the winning goal against Ottawa with under two minutes left in Game Seven, making the Devils Eastern Conference Champions.

"I knew you'd ask that. People ask me that as well," he quipped. "I'd have to honestly say the pass that I made to Friesen without a doubt was the most highlight of my career so far."

"It was just the way the whole game was going up and down and (Jeff) was getting frustrated after giving up a goal a couple of shifts before that."

"I just talked to him and said, 'Listen. Relax. The game's tied. We're in Game Seven. Where else would you rather be?' And we came through with the pass and he got the goal. So it was great."

Undoubtedly, Marshall knows what it takes to win.

Devils Power Past Canadiens

In the first of two huge tests this weekend, the Devils powered their way past the Canadiens (13-4-3) 5-3 at Continental Airlines Arena Friday night. On the strength of three power play goals, New Jersey won for the third time in four games.

With the game tied at three in the third period, the Devils took advantage of a Saku Koivu slash to take the lead. Already having connected twice, they caught a bit of luck when a Brian Rafalski rebound deflected off Brian Gionta's leg past Jose Theodore at 7:25. It was Gionta's team-leading 12th goal of the season. Rafalski and Sergei Brylin notched assists.

Before Gionta's winner, with Vlad Malakhov in the box, Martin Brodeur came up with his best save of the night, kicking out a Michael Ryder one-timer from the slot.

"That was a big one-timer he had," said Brodeur. "It made somewhat of a difference. From there, we were able to continue and it was a tie game and we took a lead after it."

"That changed the complexion of the game and that's why he's the best," added coach Larry Robinson.

Brodeur denied Ryder again late in the third to keep his team ahead. In his fourth straight start, he finished with 25 saves and improved to 24-8-3 in his 35th consecutive start (regular season and playoffs) against his hometown club.

With the Canadiens pressing late, the Devils D didn't break, allowing John Madden to score into an empty net with 24 seconds left.

"We stick with our gameplan against them," said Brylin.

Entering the contest against the Eastern Conference leading Habs, Robinson thought his team needed a sense of urgency. Taking a page from the coach, they came out flying in the opening period.

Much sharper on the puck and outshooting Montreal 17-8, the Devils jumped out to a two-goal lead thanks to their power play. With Montreal down two men for 1:41, Scott Gomez beat Theodore from the right circle with a shot off the far post to make it 1-0 8:08 in. It was Gomez' third goal in four games. Paul Martin and Rafalski picked up assists.

Gionta increased the lead to two 7:41 later when he redirected a Gomez shot from the left wing over Theodore. In arguably their best period this season, the Devs took it to the locker room.

But with all the momentum, it fell apart quickly in the second when Tomas Plekanec and Richard Zednik scored 42 seconds apart to tie the game. First, a Rafalski giveaway went right to Plekanec, who backhanded his second past Brodeur. Zednik followed when he walked in and beat Brodeur.

It would get worse 6:03 later when Vlad Malakhov allowed Saku Koivu to skate into the slot and beat Brodeur five-hole.

Asked about seeing Montreal score three straight, Gomez said, "It was like, here we go again kind of thing but the team responded well and everyone did the job."

"That's a great hockey club over there."

With nothing going in the period for the Devils, Viktor Kozlov changed that when his turnaround shot around the net beat Theodore gloveside, tying it 3-3 with 1:21 left.

"It was huge," said Gomez. "We didn't want to come into the locker room like that and especially for Kozzie. It was a great goal for him. When he wants to play, he's just awesome out there."

"It was important for us to tie the game at the end of the second," added Brylin.

It changed the game and helped give the Devils a big comeback victory heading into Ottawa Saturday.

"It's big," said Gionta. "Again, we had the lead and then were just down for a couple of minutes, a couple of bad mistakes but we stuck with it and stayed confident tonight, which we haven't done all year."

"We played pretty close to 60 minutes tonight."

"We played smarter tonight," noted Brylin. "And the effort was there games before but we didn't play as smart as we did today."

Notes: Jamie Langenbrunner sat out the game with an undisclosed illness. ... Alexander Mogilny (concussion) missed his third game in a row and won't play Saturday. ... Devils (9-8-2) travel to Ottawa (14-3-0) tonight at 7 PM.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Hurricanes Storm Past Rangers

The Rangers found out the hard way what the Hurricanes are all about. One of the NHL's biggest surprises this season, Carolina (14-3-1) stormed past the Rangers 5-1 at the RBC Center Thursday night. Kevyn Adams scored his first career hat trick and Martin Gerber finished with 28 saves. It was the Rangers' second loss in a row.

After Eric Staal and Michael Nylander traded unassisted goals 34 seconds apart near the end of the first, Adams started a string of four unanswered goals early in the second. After a Darius Kasparaitis penalty expired, Adams took a feed from Radim Vrbata and jammed the puck through Henrik Lundqvist at 3:30 to give Carolina a 2-1 lead. Earlier in the shift, Gerber stopped Tom Poti and the Canes took advantage of a blown coverage when neither Kasparaitis nor Nylander picked up Adams.

With under three minutes left in the period, Adams scored a backbreaking goal to put his team up two. Off a Maxim Kondratiev turnover behind the net due to a hit, Adams surprised Lundqvist with a backhand wraparound five-hole.

In the third, the Rangers' discipline fell apart. Ville Nieminen, Nylander and Martin Straka all got called for offensive zone penalties, putting the Canes on the power play for almost half the stanza. Briefly after killing off the third minor, another Blueshirt turnover resulted in Adams' third goal of the night. Largely ineffective most of the night, Jaromir Jagr failed to get the puck deep leading to a two-on-one. When Vrbata setup Adams in the slot for a one-time blast, it made the score 4-1 with 8:27 left.

Adding insult to injury, Justin Williams added an unassisted shorthanded goal with less than two minutes remaining to put a stamp on the Rangers' worst game of the season.

In an exciting first period, both teams took turns coming at each other in waves to try to gain an advantage. However, neither Lundqvist nor Gerber gave an inch. Each took turns making big saves. First, Lundqvist robbed Cory Stillman. He would later pokecheck away another chance. With some luck, it was Gerber's turn. Late in the period on a Ranger power play, Straka fed Petr Prucha for a slam dunk but he hit the post. However, the puck trickled off Gerber and right on the goal line before he covered up. Initially, referee Don Koharski ruled it a goal. But video replay reversed the call. That was the closest New York came to a lead.

In his first start in three games, Lundqvist allowed a season worst five goals on 27 shots.

Notes: Rangers lost defenseman Fedor Tyutin to a finger injury early in the first after he blocked a shot. He took only four shifts and will be reevaluated by team doctors back in New York Friday. ... Rangers (11-7-3) finished the road trip 3-2 and return home for a Saturday rematch with Carolina at 1 PM.

Devils Face Stiff Competition This Weekend

The Devils unpredictable season continued Tuesday in a 4-1 loss at Buffalo. After Scott Gomez opened the scoring, the Sabres score four unanswered goals. Even worse, Buffalo's no-name D shutdown New Jersey's offense. The Devils were unable to get many shots through. After 11 in the first, they had that total for the final two periods.

That won't work against their next two opponents. The Devils host Eastern Conference leader Montreal Friday night and then travel to Ottawa Saturday to play the league's most explosive offense.

It promises to be a big challenge. Both Montreal and Ottawa are quick skating skilled transition teams who can take advantage of miscues. The Devils must be sharp in all facets to have a chance in these games. In past seasons when faced with adversity, they rose to the challenge.

What they do have going for them entering Friday's match-up with the Canadiens is that Martin Brodeur has always fared well against the club he grew up in Montreal idolizing. A vintage Brodeur performance would go a long way to having a successful weekend.

However, it's not just all on his shoulders. Having struggled offensively, the Devs need more from everyone. Brian Gionta has done his part, pacing the club in goals (10) and points (17). After a slow start, Scott Gomez takes a three-game point streak (2-3-5) into Friday night. Rookie Zach Parise also has looked better the past few games (1-1-2 in 3 GP). He's been shifted to wing on Gomez' line.

The Devils could be without Alexander Mogilny for the third consecutive game due to a concussion suffered at Washington last Friday. Viktor Kozlov missed the Buffalo game with the flu, making his status uncertain.

One player who has struggled lately is Sergei Brylin. Brylin got off to a quick start with six goals in his first 10 games but has gone eight straight without one. The 31-year-old Moscow native always gives great effort. But with the well dry in terms of scoring, a goal from the Devils' unsung hero would be a welcome sight.

A forward who is going well is Jamie Langenbrunner. He's got a goal and three assists in the last four contests. Moved off the checking line, Langenbrunner has picked it up.

Grant Marshall has also given the team a boost with some surprising offense, notching at least a point the past three (2-3-5).

The team could also use more finishing from John Madden and Jay Pandolfo. The dynamic duo seem to create chances every game due to hard work. Maybe if one got a bounce, it could provide a lift.

While the focus is on the forwards to finish, the blueline must also contribute. Brian Rafalski has played steady D all season but the Devs could use some offense from the crafty ex-Wisconsin product. He's without a point in the last four and has just one goal on the season. Without a doubt, Rafalski is their number one defenseman and is relied on for offense. His skating is top notch and his passing can lead to odd-man rushes.

If the Devils are to win one of the next two games, their defense must get the job done. They can't afford any silly turnovers from Vlad Malakhov nor any undisciplined penalties because their next two opponents will make them pay.

One thing is certain. By the end of the weekend, the Devils should know where they stand against two of the East's elite.

Hard Hits: The MVP Double Standard

This past week, writers who cover Major League Baseball handed out the MVP awards. The AL winner was Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez while the NL recipient was Cardinal first baseman Albert Pujols. While both were very deserving, this writer can't help but wonder what the criteria actually is for selecting the respective league's best players.

I always thought MVP meant 'most valuable' to your team. Ask most rational Yankee fans who the team's most indispensable player was and Mariano Rivera's name will come up often. Without the game's best closer, the Bronx Bombers don't come close to making the postseason for the 11th straight year. In fact, they probably would have finished around .500 which tells you something about how much they depended on Rivera.

Of course, most traditionalists will say that a pitcher who comes in to record three outs can't be as valuable as an everyday position player like A-rod. But without Rivera saving the Yankees' bacon time and time again, none of the gaudy offensive numbers Rodriguez put up wouldn't have mattered. Neither would the offensive support from Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui or Jason Giambi.

It doesn't take away from what A-rod accomplished in 2005. He was every bit the superstar the Yanks thought they had acquired for Alfonso Soriano a year earlier. His 48 homers ranked first in the AL just ahead of runner-up David Ortiz' 47. He also finished fourth in RBI's with 130, 18 behind league Leader Ortiz.

Both A-rod and Big Papi were clutch players for their respective ball clubs. While A-rod's numbers were respectable with runners in scoring position, they didn't measure up to Papi's. Nobody was more dangerous late in ballgames than Boston's slugging designated hitter. I don't have to supply the numbers. By now, you've seen the comparison overkilled on Sportscenter 24/7.

What some voters decided was the ultimate factor in choosing Rodriguez for his second MVP in three years was that he played in the field everyday. While I agree that Rodriguez' defense at third was solid if not spectacular, is that really what determined who won?

Explain to me how these same writers picked Pujols over Gold Glove centerfielder Andruw Jones. I have a ton of respect for what Pujols has accomplished in his career. He's been one of the best hitters I've ever seen. The NLCS Game Five two out ninth inning three-run home run off Houston closer Brad Lidge was as big a playoff homer as you'll see. Even if his team didn't comeback to win the series, it will be remembered.

The St. Louis first baseman finished second in hitting (.335), third in dingers (41)-10 behind major league leader Jones (51) and tied for second in RBI's (117). Jones also led the NL in that category with 128.

No doubt about it a remarkable season for the 25-year-old Pujols, who over his first four years watched Barry Bonds take MVP honors. They don't have much in common except for one thing. Both are paid top dollar for what they do at the plate. Bonds didn't win those awards for his athletic prowess in left field. Long ago when he had good legs, Bonds was a Gold Glove calibre outfielder. If defense were factored into his recent MVP seasons, no way he wins. Ditto for Pujols because while he can play first, it's not what he's known for. That might explain the 14 errors he had.

Try telling this to the purists who argued that no DH should ever win MVP. Atlanta's Jones is the best outfielder in the game year in and year out. This season, with the Braves younger than ever before and with a rash of injuries, not only was the 28-year-old Jones brilliant in the field but at the plate as well. He carried the Braves most of the season. But for whatever reason, his defense was ignored. Center field is one of the toughest positions to play. The spotlight is on that player to make the plays. Just ask Yankee fans their reaction when they watched an aging Bernie Williams try to track down fly balls in the gap. That's how many runs Jones saves with his defense. It has to make Atlanta pitchers more comfortable with throwing strikes.

So, I ask again if Ortiz lost to A-rod by 24 points because of defense, then why did Jones lose by 17 points to Pujols when he was the much better fielder?

It must be a senior circuit thing.

Hitting Back:

-Now that Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig finally got it right with a three strikes and you're out steroid policy, we're all supposed to pat him on the back? I am not buying it. If Selig was so serious about the game's integrity, then something should have been done back in '98 when Roger Maris' 61 homers was obliterated by larger than life Popeye look alike Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

-I love hearing all these Mets fans call up WFAN in New York complaining about how all Omar Minaya got for Mike Cameron was Xavier Nady. Were they really expecting Manny Ramirez in return for an outfielder who might not be the same after that collision with Carlos Beltran? As John McEnroe says, "You can't be serious!"

-If I'm Boston, I don't take Cameron in a package not just for that reason. But he's overpriced and not as good as re-signing Johnny Damon, who has been a rock star at Fenway. A darn good player too.

-Was there ever any doubt that Hideki Matsui would be back in Pinstripes? I'm still not seeing Brian Giles play center at The Stadium.

-When Stephon Marbury says he's changed his game after scoring a season low four points and sat out the end of another Knicks loss at the Lakers, it may as well mean, 'I can't play for Coach Brown.'

-When does Quentin Richardson start playing D? At least that cardboard cutout of him moves while McEnroe hits tennis balls while lecturing him to play defense during a commercial.

-It only took the Nets eight games to start playing D.

-When does Eddy Curry stay out of foul trouble?

-That new look Jets offense under offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger is really making Gang Green fans forget Paul Hackett. But I thought Justin McCareins was an impact player.

-The Giants need a big performance from Eli Manning this Sunday against the Eagles. He must come up big or Big Blue's season could go down in flames.

-Do you get the feeling TO has compromising pics of ESPN employees?

-What was worse for New Jersey college sports? Rutgers football players stomping on the Louisville Cardinals logo last week only to be routed 56-5 or Seton Hall losing to Duke by 53 Wednesday night?

-Rafael Palmeiro still wants us to know that he unknowingly took steroids. I unknowingly wrote this column.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Questionable Call Costs Rangers In Toronto

Entering this season, the NHL wanted referees to call the game closer to the vest. Tuesday night in Toronto, a questionable goalie interference call on Jed Ortmeyer wound up deciding a tightly played game which the Maple Leafs (10-7-2) won 2-1 to snap the Rangers' three-game road win streak.

With the game tied at one early in the third period, that's when referee Don VanMassenhoven whistled Ortmeyer to the box for the dubious penalty. With Toronto goalie Ed Belfour outside the crease, Ortmeyer's skate accidentally touched Belfour's as both moved at the same time. Unbelievably, it was enough for VanMassenhoven to give the Leafs their fourth power play.

Having connected once already on a Bryan McCabe blast with 1:59 left in the first, the Leafs' second ranked man-advantage would be the difference again. With penalty killer Steve Rucchin forced by Jeff O'Neill along the boards, the puck came back to Tomas Kaberle, who quickly sent a soft pass over to McCabe, who blasted his second of the night past Kevin Weekes to put Toronto up 2-1 3:37 into the third. McCabe entered the game with 15 of his 23 points on the power play. Goals number seven and eight made it 17 of 25 for the season.

Effective most of the night at even-strength, the Blueshirts had a couple of big chances to tie it. Off some grunt work from Dominic Moore, they drew their fourth power play on another iffy call. This time it sent McCabe to the box for elbowing. But on it, Belfour stopped Jagr to keep his team ahead.

Shortly after, Marcel Hossa had an apparent tying goal disallowed correctly because he used a high stick to bat a puck down before beating Belfour. Even after that, the Rangers had their best opportunity to knot the game. With a little over six minutes remaining, Jagr sprung Martin Straka for a breakaway. Unfortunately for Straka, with Belfour down, his backhand hit the post.

Afterwards, Toronto dictated the play and forced Weekes to make some tough saves. With the Rangers unable to get through the neutral zone, they didn't get another shot on Belfour until Weekes was pulled for an extra attacker with 14 seconds left. Off a Blair Betts faceoff win, Michal Rozsival's blueline shot was snagged by Belfour. A rushed Straka shot went wide with time winding down.

Outshot 10-7 in the first, the Rangers didn't get much done. But in the second, they went to work to tie it. Off a great cycle behind the net, Michael Nylander setup Jagr in the slot for his league-leading 18th goal to make it 1-1 6:14 into the stanza. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Belfour robbed Rucchin, Ville Nieminen and Hossa late in the period. Not to be outdone, Weekes was sharp on a Sundin backhand with seven seconds remaining.

Belfour made 27 saves while Toronto native Weekes turned aside 22 of 24.

Notes: In his first game against his ex-team, Eric Lindros was held off the scoresheet in 17:42 of action. The former Ranger went 11-and-six on draws. ... In a physical game, both teams finished with 26 hits. ... Rangers (11-6-3) conclude their road trip at Southeast Division leader Carolina (13-3-1) Thursday night.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Inside Blueshirts

Jagr Records Hat Trick In Win Over Ex-Team: Jaromir Jagr's 14th career hat trick helped the Rangers blowout his former team Pittsburgh 6-1 Saturday night. It was Jagr's second three goal game of the season with his first coming in a 5-4 loss to the Islanders on October 20. His 17 goals this season tie him with the Flyers' Simon Gagne for the league lead.

Entering Saturday against the team which selected him fifth overall in the 1990 Draft and helped win two Stanley Cups ('91 and '92) with, the Czech star had struggled against them in 13 previous games (three goals) since a trade to Washington four years ago. Booed throughout by The Mellon Arena crowd which once supported him, Jagr turned the tables on the Penguins, doubling his goal output by the end of the night.

The former Pittsburgh star still has special feelings for the franchise.

"It's been four years, but it is more special because we're playing a very good team tonight," he said to reporters afterwards. "It's not so much that it came against Pittsburgh, but it's more about how we're playing as a team."

After scoring two goals within a 15 second span to put his club up 3-0, Jagr waited until the final 1:36 of the game to complete it in style when he one-timed home a Petr Prucha pass for a five-on-three goal. It put an exclamation point on the Rangers' third straight road win. No doubt a banner night for Jagr.

Rucchin Scores Twice: In the win, Steve Rucchin scored twice to increase his goal total to five. With his team leading 3-1 in the third, the ex-Anaheim pivot scored a timely goal on the power play 1:46 in to put the Blueshirts back up three. Rucchin redirected a Tom Poti wrist shot past Jocelyn Thibault. He tallied his second of the night 9:01 later, beating Thibault with a wrister from the slot to make it 5-1.

In 16:13 of ice-time, the two-way center finished with a plus-one rating and won 13-of-25 draws.

Though he helped put the game away, Rucchin chose to focus on the clutch netminding of winning goalie Kevin Weekes and rookie Henrik Lundqvist.

"The biggest thing now for us is the goaltending - they've been giving us a chance to win every game," he said.

After starting the season slowly, Rucchin has six points (3-3-6) in the last five contests.

Nieminen Adds Two Helpers: Ville Nieminen picked up two assists Saturday night including a primary one on Rucchin's second of the night. In 13:11, he was plus-one with two shots, a hit and blocked shot.

Poti Adds Two Assists: Tom Poti notched two assists in the victory. It was the first two point game of the season for the defenseman and gave him three assists in his past two games.

In 16:32 of action, the Worcester Massachusetts native was plus-one with two shots and a blocked shot.

Ortmeyer Gets Second Of Season: Jed Ortmeyer notched his second goal of the season to open the scoring 2:15 into the first. During a four-on-four, he stole the puck from Sergei Gonchar and broke in on Thibault, putting home his own rebound for an unassisted goal. It was Ortmeyer's first tally in 13 games since scoring in a 5-1 win over Atlanta October 15.

For the season, the 27-year-old Omaha Nebraska native has two goals, two assists and a plus-four rating.

Ward Adds Assist: Jason Ward had a primary assist on Jagr's first goal of the game. During a key four-on-four situation, Ward broke in with Jagr two-on-one and fed Jagr for an easy tap-in into an open net. The ex-Hab has two goals and five assists for seven points on the season.

Kondratiev and Kasparaitis Contribute: Rookie Maxim Kondratiev and veteran Darius Kasparaitis assisted on Jagr's second goal of the night. Paired together, they finished plus-two with four blocked shots including three from Kasparaitis.

Prucha and Straka Tally Assists: Petr Prucha and Martin Straka combined to setup Jagr for his hat trick late in the game. Prucha picked up his first NHL assist while Straka added his 17th helper this season.

Weekes Wins Again: Kevin Weekes made 23 saves to backstop the Rangers to their 11th win of the season. Back in net after two consecutive starts from Lundqvist, the 30-year-old netminder was sharp, making several clutch stops down two men in the second to keep his team in front.

In his last four starts, Weekes is 3-1-0 with a 1.97 GAA and a .924 save percentage.

Blueshirts Travel To Toronto: Having won the first three on a season long five-game road trip, the Atlantic division-leading Blueshirts (11-5-3) head up north to face former Ranger Eric Lindros and the Maple Leafs (9-7-2) Tuesday (7:30 PM). They conclude the trip Thursday at Carolina.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Body Checks: Hurricane Warning

Before the season began, not many prognosticators had the Carolina Hurricanes taking the 'New NHL' by storm. For the record, I too thought the Hurricanes would finish near the bottom of the East. But as most would point out, did anyone have the Rangers winning 10 of their first 18 games, picking up points in 13 of them either?

That's the kind of season its been. Where unforeseen pleasant surprises like Carolina and New York are out of the gate quickly.

The Hurricanes took a franchise best eight-game winning streak into Florida Friday night. The previous record was seven originally established by Hartford from March 16-29, 1985. Remarkably, they have picked up at least a point in 11 straight games (10-0-1) with their last regulation defeat a 3-2 loss to the Islanders on October 8. Their 11-2-1 mark for 23 points puts them at the top of the Southeast and tied them with the Rangers for third most points in the conference behind Montreal and Ottawa. It also is the best ever start for the Whaler/Cane franchise. They're a perfect 7-0-0 at the RBC Center this season.

So, why are the Canes so improved? Look at the NHL scoring leaders and you'll see second-year center Eric Staal near the top of the list with 27 points (11-16-27). A marked improvement for the former 2003 second overall pick who finished with 31 points his rookie year in '03-04. In just 14 games in '05-06, Staal has already matched his goal output (11). His role is much different as he now centers the top line and is relied on for offense. So far, he's excelling.

At the 2005 Draft, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford traded Jeff O'Neill to Toronto in exchange for a future conditional 2006 pick. It was an attempt to change the look of his club. One summer earlier, Rutherford acquired goalie Martin Gerber from Anaheim for prospect Tomas Malec and a third round pick. That move has turned out great so far. In splitting time with rookie netminder Cam Ward, Gerber is 6-1-0 with a 2.26 GAA, .928 save percentage and one shutout. Ward has won five of his first eight starts.

Remaining from the '02 Hurricanes which lost to Detroit in the Cup final are Rod Brind'Amour, Erik Cole, Josef Vasicek, Bret Hedican, Glen Wesley, Aaron Ward and Niclas Wallin. Along with additions such as Cory Stillman, Ray Whitney, Matt Cullen, Oleg Tverdovsky and Frantisek Kaberle, Carolina's roster has meshed.

A member of the Cup champion Lightning, Stillman is second on the team with 18 points while the homegrown Cole is third with 15. Brind'Amour is playing some of his best hockey. He ranks second in goals (8), fourth in points (14) and takes most of the important draws. Whitney and Cullen have contributed well to the cause. On the blueline, Tverdovsky has provided a lift with eight points and a plus-seven rating. He also won a Cup with the '03 Devils. Kaberle leads their D with nine points. Hedican and Wesley have been steady and ex-Flame Mike Commodore has provided some beef.

Maybe what was overlooked with Carolina is that Rutherford kept some of his roster intact and added savvy vets who would fit in well to coach Peter Laviolette's system. The former Islander coach led the Isles to their first two playoff appearances ('02, '03) since '94. He was hired by the Hurricanes on December 18, 2003 and led them to a 20-22-6-4 finish in '03-04. So far, Laviolette has done a solid job behind the bench, putting the focus back on winning.

From the look of things, the Hurricanes plan on sticking around a while.

Checking In:

-Sidney Crosby is everything advertised. But giving him top October rookie over more worthy freshmen Jason LaBarbera, Henrik Lundqvist and Alexander Ovechkin reeks of league PR in New York. Something we'd expect from the NBA. Not the NHL.

-Kudos to the Blues for planning to honor Al MacInnis by retiring his number 2 next April 9th. Is Lou Lamoriello listening when it comes to a certain player who wore number 4?

-It took an injury to Sebastien Caron for Pittsburgh to finally recall former '03 top pick Marc-Andre Fleury. This from a team that signed Jocelyn Thibault in the offseason.

-If the Islanders continue struggling, do you think GM Mike Milbury wishes he had kept Laviolette?

-Simon Gagne is off to a great start playing with Foppa but there's no better line than Ottawa's terrific trio of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson.

-Before the season many observers thought the Red Wings were done. Care to change your opinion?

-So when does John Tortorella shake up his defending Cup champion team?

-When will Marc Crawford realize that Alex Auld is a better option in net than Dan Cloutier?

-Scott Niedermayer has 10 points. Sean Brown has 9. Which one is getting paid to play like a superstar?

Hard Hits: These Knicks Not Exactly What Brown Had In Mind

During last season where he coached Detroit within a quarter of repeating, Larry Brown called coaching the Knicks his "Dream Job." The 65-year-old Brooklyn native returned home July 27th when Knicks President of Basketball Operations Isiah Thomas named him the franchise's 22nd head coach at a gala press conference in Madison Square Garden.

Brown is the only coach in basketball history to win an NCAA championship ('88 Kansas) and NBA title ('04 Detroit). He knows what it takes to have success and warned that the beginning would be tough. Building a winner is a process.

So far, his dream has turned into an early nightmare. The Knicks are off to an 0-4 start, matching their sixth worst in history. What's even more alarming about it is the way they have fallen apart in the losses.

At Boston, they somehow gave up 20 points in a five minute overtime to lose by double digits. In their home opener against Washington, after getting off to a poor start, they fought back to take the lead in the fourth quarter only to falter down the stretch. The same thing happened against Golden State. But the worst was yet to come. At Portland, New York played an inspired first half and led by 10 but for whatever reason, they forgot to show up in the second half, getting outscored by 22 to lose by 12.

Brown's biggest dilemma so far this season is he hasn't been able to settle on a starting lineup nor a rotation. Already, he's tinkered with the players Thomas gave him. How else do you explain Matt Barnes going from starter to being put on the inactive list? In the first game of the season, rookies Channing Frye and David Lee did not play. But since, both have gotten significant time and proven to Brown they deserve it. Maurice Taylor has been in and out of the lineup. Last game, Brown started Jamal Crawford and shifted the struggling Quentin Richardson to the three.

How hard is it for Brown? One of Thomas' free agent additions Jerome James did not play at Portland after getting into foul trouble the first three games. It doesn't help that he came into camp overweight. Meanwhile, Eddy Curry has also not been on the court enough due to conditioning and fouls. They need the 22-year-old center acquired from the Bulls on the court. They also could use some more floor leadership from Stephon Marbury. Marbury has looked confused at times trying to adjust to Brown's system. It doesn't excuse some of the lazy passes he made in the fourth quarter the other night.

So, what does Brown have going for him? Trevor Ariza has looked good off the bench and is gaining more trust. Rookie Nate Robinson has played with a bundle of energy. Both Antonio Davis and Malik Rose play hard every night but do the same thing, which means one will be dealt.

Brown has admitted that he has too many players capable of getting into games and that it's not fair to some when they sit. Paging Isiah!

There's little doubt that the Knicks slow start is not a surprise. Brown doesn't have the kind of team he wants and it shows when he subs guys in and out faster than an A-rod homer clears the fence. There definitely will be a couple of moves made by Thomas to make Brown's choices easier.

In the mean time, the Knicks continue their six-game West coast trip tonight at Golden State with stops at Sacramento, Utah, Lakers and Nuggets.

It promises to get uglier before it gets better.

Hitting Back:

-The way ESPN has covered TO, you'd think he was a hero that kids could look up to. Why don't they run an Outside The Lines about what's wrong with sports? Oh wait. They'd have to look in the mirror.

-Speaking of TO, is it any coincidence that his dopey agent Drew Rosenhaus is at the center of every press conference? Rosenhaus is the root of the problem.

-Not long ago, ex-Devil Mike Danton had a similar agent who was nothing but a negative influence. David Frost controlled basically everything his client did, even convincing Danton to change his name from Mike Jefferson to Mike Danton, creating a family rift. Not only was their relationship unusual but they even shared an apartment. When he was in St. Louis over a year ago, Danton ordered a hit on Frost and wound up in jail. This was an extreme case. But when you see more and more agents front and center for the wrong reasons, it's not about team chemistry.

-Is everything still all rosy with Herm Edwards' Jets?

-Do the Giants look stupid for getting Eli Manning a year later?

-If Bartolo Colon is the AL Cy Young, then Mariano Rivera is the AL MVP. No player has been more valuable to his team than Rivera. Not A-rod and not even Big Papi.

-When does Ranger coach Tom Renney finally get some of Larry Brown's air time?

-There are few NHL players more exciting to watch than Jaromir Jagr.

-When you watch how the Devils nearly blew a three-goal third period lead against the Caps in Martin Brodeur's first game back from a knee sprain, you realize that the goalie isn't the problem.

-Whose job is more secure? Glen Sather or Mike Milbury?

-USC, not Texas is still the team to beat in college football but don't tell the BCS that.

-Vitali Klitschko, we hardly knew ye. And people wonder why the heavyweight division is a laughingstock.

-It was just our imagination that the Nets home opener against Milwaukee last week wasn't soldout. Yep. My eyes must have deceived me when I saw all those empty seats.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Moore Lifts Blueshirts Over Defending Champs

On the depth chart, 25-year-old rookie Dominic Moore is listed as a fourth center. Try telling that to the defending Cup champion Lightning (7-8-2), who were victimized by two Moore third period goals in a 5-2 defeat at St. Pete Times Forum Thursday night.

Moore- a night earlier banked in a shot off Roberto Luongo to rally the Rangers past the Panthers. This time, the crafty Harvard product did his damage in more conventional fashion. A few minutes after Jason Ward put New York ahead 2-1 in the third period on a rebound of a Blair Betts shot, Moore struck on the power play when he redirected a Tom Poti point shot past John Grahame to make it 3-1 with 12:42 left. Poti and Steve Rucchin added helpers.

However, the Lightning got right back into the game less than four minutes later when Dan Boyle one-timed home a Brad Richards feed for a power play tally. Richards and Kubina assisted.

With Tampa Bay pressing for the tie, that's when Moore took advantage of a mistake by Lightning rookie Evgeny Artyukhin. Earlier in the shift, with Boyle trying to keep the puck in the Ranger zone, Petr Prucha was leveled by the defenseman against the boards but still managed to get the puck out. It led directly to Moore's second goal of the period, which sealed the Rangers' second straight win.

With Artyukhin mishandling a Nolan Pratt pass at his blueline, Moore pounced on it and broke in on Grahame, beating him with a nifty backhand for his sixth of the season to make it 4-2 with 4:12 remaining.

Marcel Hossa added an empty netter late to put an exclamation point on the victory. In their history, the Rangers had only swept a back-to-back on a Florida trip three times in the previous 14 tries. They're now four-for-fifteen.

The first period was a tactical battle between two teams who didn't give up much (shots were 5-5). But after failing on a power play, the Rangers capitalized on a Tampa change to take the lead. With first-year netminder Henrik Lundqvist noticing that Tampa was changing, he fired a two-line pass up the left boards to Hossa, who sprung Ville Nieminen for a breakaway. In on Grahame, Nieminen beat him short side for his first goal in 10 games since October 15 against Atlanta. Hossa and Lundqvist picked up assists. It was Lundqvist's first career NHL point.

Prucha had a glorious chance to increase the margin to two but was robbed by Grahame. Taking a Marek Malik pass, Prucha came in on Grahame and deked to the forehand but a sprawling Grahame stretched out his glove just in the nick of time to keep it 1-0 after one.

The Lightning raised their level in the second to knot the game up. After a Jagr setup for Michael Nylander failed when Nylander hit the post, Vincent Lecavalier came the other way and wristed a shot from the right wing past Lundqvist at 5:13. Originally credited with the goal, it was later changed to Martin St. Louis, who got his stick on it for his fifth of the season. Lecavalier and Vinny Prospal notched assists.

Held without a shot for the first half of the stanza, the Rangers blew a five-on-three opportunity late in the second to keep the game tied heading to the third.

In his first start in the second half of a back-to-back, Lundqvist stopped 23 of 25 shots. Grahame finished with 15 saves.

Notes: Tampa Bay has lost five in a row, which is their longest losing streak since dropping six straight from March 24-April 3, 2002. ... Rangers have won four of their first five in November and are five games over .500 for the first time since December 31, 2001. ... Rangers (10-5-3) travel to Pittsburgh (5-7-5) Saturday night (7:30 PM).

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Prucha Helps Rangers Steal Win In Florida

Just call him Petr The Great. Whatever you call him, rookie Petr Prucha once again was the difference for the Rangers in a come-from-behind 4-3 shootout win at Florida (6-7-3) Wednesday night.

Having miraculously tied the game on a lucky break when Dominic Moore's backhand prayer from behind the goal trickled off Jay Bouwmeester and Roberto Luongo and in with three seconds left to force overtime, the Rangers were fortunate that Moore's fourth of the season counted. Before he scored, Jaromir Jagr's trip of a Panther went undetected by officials. It summed up an awful night for the men in stripes- who missed several blatant fouls on both teams along with a couple of questionable calls.

After killing off a brief Panther power play in OT, the Blueshirts came close to ending it when Jagr setup Fedor Tyutin for a one-timer but Luongo closed up the five-hole. The Florida netminder finished with 37 saves. His counterpart, Henrik Lundqvist was equally as busy, making 38 stops including a tough one on Stephen Weiss from in close. It was Lundqvist's first start in nine days since a 4-2 Halloween loss to Montreal.

Both goalies were kept on their toes when the contest needed a shootout to decide a winner. After Martin Straka and Weiss exchanged posts, Luongo denied Michael Nylander with a glove save and Lundqvist stuffed Juraj Kolnik's backhand deke. The Rangers' third shooter, Jagr moved in and had Luongo beat but his backhand hit the post, making him 0-for-3 this season.

With a chance to win it, Panther captain Olli Jokinen's high shot Lundqvist got a piece of to set the stage for Prucha to do his thing. Having won Saturday's game over the Devils in similar fashion, the 23-year-old Czech moved in and roofed a perfect shot past Luongo to put the pressure on Kristian Huselius. When Huselius' shot went wide, the Rangers improved to 2-1 in shootouts. It was Florida's first shootout of the season.

New York got off to a good start when Steve Rucchin scored a power play goal 4:56 into the first. Parked in front, Rucchin deposited a Straka rebound off the post and in for a 1-0 lead. Straka and Jagr tallied helpers.

A few minutes later, Tom Poti hit the crossbar. The momentum swung to Florida in the second half of the period and they would be rewarded with the tying goal late. Taking advantage of some shaky play by the Rangers in their own end, rookie Anthony Stewart notched his second of the season with 2:21 left. After Maxim Kondratiev failed to clear the zone, Stewart's backhand rebounded off Lundqvist to Rucchin, who cleared it right to Stewart. With Lundqvist down, Stewart one-timed the puck upstairs to make it 1-1.

A late hooking call on Prucha would prove costly in the second. Though the Rangers killed it off, Florida went ahead 10 seconds after it expired. Taking a feed from Lukas Krajicek on the rush, Weiss broke in on Lundqvist and beat him to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead 41 seconds into the stanza. Krajicek and Luongo assisted.

But with Florida in control, the Blueshirts bounced right back to tie it 50 seconds later. On a nice passing play, Straka finished his second of the season from the slot, surprising Luongo shortside. Jagr and Nylander registered assists.

Shaky most of the period, the Rangers were shorthanded plenty. When Marek Malik was whistled off for holding, it gave Florida their fifth consecutive power play since Rucchin's goal. Jokinen quickly took advantage, surprising Lundqvist with a wrister from the right wing to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead with 6:04 left in the second. Mike Van Ryn and Weiss added assists.

Despite two power plays, New York couldn't get much done and trailed by a goal heading to the third. That's when the Panthers had a couple of opportunies to put the game away. With Nylander in the box for a high sticking double minor, a Panther shot sailed off the post.

After Nylander was called for a dubious goalie interference call when he was pushed into Luongo by Van Ryn, Malik took his second minor of the game, giving Florida a short five-on-three. After another Florida shot rang off the post, a Blair Betts clear allowed them to get out of trouble.

When Michal Rozsival picked up a cross checking penalty to cancel out a late Ranger power play with just 21 seconds remaining, the game looked over. But as fortune had it, Bouwmeester mistakenly iced the puck with 15 seconds to go. It would lead directly to Moore's tally- setting up the dramatic finish.

Notes: It was the first home game for Florida since October 20 due to Hurricane Wilma, which forced two postponements. They had played their previous six on the road. ... Florida defenseman Branislav Mezei left the game with a knee injury due to a hit by Ryan Hollweg into the boards. ... Rangers (9-5-3) continue their five-game trip- the longest of the season- with a visit to defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay (7-7-2) tonight.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Something's Rotten In Swamp

The Devils entered this season with the usual lofty expectations from general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Larry Robinson. Despite losing Scott Stevens to retirement and Scott Niedermayer to Anaheim, New Jersey was expected to still contend.

Those goals are being put to the test so far. With a 4-1 loss to the Islanders at Continental Airlines Arena Tuesday night, it was the fourth straight game New Jersey failed to come away with two points (0-2-2).

Fifteen games have been played and the Devils find themselves in the unfamiliar position of looking up at the standings. Their 6-7-2 mark ties them for third in the Atlantic with the Islanders, just one point ahead of the last place Penguins.

Though they trail the first place Flyers and Rangers by just five points, it seems like more because this team is having trouble scoring goals. Already without top scorer Patrik Elias due to hepatitis, if you were Robinson, would you healthy scratch your second leading scorer Alexander Mogilny in favor of enforcer Darren Langdon? Langdon saw the ice for one shift. In a grand total of six seconds, he was on for the first goal against when Mattias Weinhandl redirected a Brad Lukowich shot past Scott Clemmensen. As the majority of the Islanders celebrated, Langdon dropped the gloves with goon Eric Godard. The result was a draw. It was the last time he saw the ice.

Adding further insult, rookie Cam Janssen took five shifts (1:22) and was a minus-two, basically relegating Robinson to playing seven forwards.

If these moves made sense when the only player who's been consistently finishing is top scorer Brian Gionta (9-5-14), then maybe I'm not drinking the same Kool Aid as the coach.

Nobody doubts what Robinson's motive was behind the benching. But with the well running dry up front, wouldn't it have been wiser to stick to the original gameplan and play Mogilny on the fourth line with Erik Rasmussen and Grant Marshall? Almost two weeks ago in a win over Buffalo, Robinson tried that combo and was rewarded with a goal from Rasmussen.

Granted, Mogilny hasn't been playing inspired hockey. But at least he's dangerous enough to create scoring chances. If he was so bad in Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers, then why was he the first shooter Robinson sent out there after hardly seeing the ice in the third?

Mogilny's 13 points (5-8-13) are better than Scott Gomez' output (3-5-8). Mogilny, 36, isn't getting any younger and his hip might be acting up. But at least he's visible on there. What's the 25-year-old Gomez' excuse for his lackluster play? Not only did the playmaking center enter with only two less goals than assists but he also was a minus-eight, easily the team's worst forward.

So, do you think Gomez came with a better effort? Instead, rookie Zach Parise was more noticeable in his shifts, at least creating some opportunities.

It's never a good sign when your most talented players are being outperformed by grinders such as Marshall, John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, Jamie Langenbrunner and Rasmussen. Paging Viktor Kozlov.

What's alarming for the Devils is that this has become a common occurrence. It must change starting Friday at Washington or maybe another high priced player will find themselves watching from upstairs.

Rangers Don't Play 'Well Enough' In Loss To Penguins

After taking four points in a home-and-home against the Devils, the Rangers didn't play well enough to defeat Pittsburgh (4-6-5) in rookie phenom Sidney Crosby's Madison Square Garden debut. Instead, they fell to Crosby and Co. 3-2 Monday night.

All night long, the Rangers accomplished very little on seven power plays. With the Pens overplaying Jaromir Jagr and no pointman able to get shots through, the Blueshirts weren't sharp enough to capitalize on Matt Murley's hooking penalty with under four minutes left down a goal. It was only the third time this season they failed to score on the man-advantage.

"We had some chances, but we didn't play well," Jagr told reporters afterwards. "We couldn't play the way we wanted to."

Before anyone gets the idea that New York was in the game, make no mistake about it, they weren't. Coming out flat against a struggling opponent, the Rangers couldn't get much done the first two periods and fell behind by two goals.

Mario Lemieux got Pittsburgh on the board when he took a Sergei Gonchar pass and beat Kevin Weekes at 15:20 of the first. It was Lemieux's sixth of the season from Gonchar and Josef Melichar.

Late in the second, the Pens increased their lead to two when Crosby went around the Ranger defense and then calmly beat Weekes five-hole on a breakaway with 1:57 left. It was Crosby's fifth of the season. Ric Jackman and Steve Poapst notched assists.

While Crosby was impressing the Garden crowd and special guest Mark Messier, who returned for the first time since retiring, the Rangers were a step slow the first 40 minutes.

"We were awful in the first, better in the second, and then we did everything we could in the third to get us the win," said a frustrated coach Tom Renney.

Ziggy Palffy would make the deficit three 3:42 into the third when his slapshot beat Weekes upstairs off a faceoff with traffic in front. Rookie Ryan Whitney picked up the lone assist.

Minutes later, Palffy had a chance to put the contest out of reach. Pulled down by Marek Malik while breaking in shorthanded, he was rewarded with a penalty shot. But Weekes was equal to the task, denying Palffy with a pad save to keep the Rangers alive.

That's when New York finally awoke to get back in the game. Rookie Ryan Hollweg scored his first career goal to cut the margin to 3-1 with 13:09 left. Jason Ward and Darius Kasparaitis tallied helpers.

Down by two, Renney rewarded the energetic Hollweg up to the second line replacing an ineffective Petr Prucha. The move paid off when Marcel Hossa finished a play in front from Steve Rucchin to make it 3-2 with 6:24 remaining. Hossa's fourth of the season snapped a 10-game goal drought and was his first since October 10th at Washington. Rucchin and Hollweg assisted.

But on a night when they couldn't take advantage on the power play, it was as close as they got.

Sebastien Caron finished with 35 saves while Weekes turned aside 21 of 24.

Notes: With Jason Strudwick scratched, Ville Nieminen returned to the lineup while rookie Maxim Kondratiev remained on the blueline. ... Jagr's 12-game point streak was snapped. ... Crosby was named the game's First Star. ... Rangers (8-5-3) embark on a five-game road trip starting in Florida (6-7-2) Wednesday night.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Giants Get Win On Road

It wasn't pretty. But the Giants (6-2) got a much needed boost on the road with a 24-6 win over the 49ers (2-6) at Monster Park Sunday. It was their first official win of the season away from Giants Stadium.

However, it wasn't easy. They were penalized 10 times for 81 yards but still overcame it for the victory. After getting an early 22-yard field goal from Jay Feely, rookie Brandon Jacobs was stopped on two fourth-and-one's to keep San Francisco down by three.

With a late 49ers drive stalling thanks to a few penalties and a Brent Alexander interception of Cody Pickett, Big Blue put itself in position for another score.

That's when Coach Tom Coughlin made a critical decision to go for another fourth-and-short from the 49ers' 32 early in the second quarter. This time, the gamble paid off thanks to a playfake by Eli Manning, who lofted a pass for a wide open Jeremy Shockey near the goal line. With the ball overthrown, Shockey was forced to make a lunging catch and then barreled his way into the end zone for the game's first touchdown, giving the Giants a 10-0 lead into the locker room.

"It was wide open, and there was no one there," Shockey said. "I have never seen that look in my whole career, and I probably will never see it again. It was a completely busted coverage."

But in the second half, any thoughts of an easy win were pushed aside when Joe Nedney booted two field goals 5:24 apart to cut the lead to 10-6 with over a quarter left.

With New York's offense needing a big play, that's when Plaxico Burress stepped up and made the catch of the day. With the ball at their own 38, Manning threw deep down the right sideline for Burress, who made a spectacular one-handed grab for a 50-yard gain all the way to the San Francisco 12. What made the catch even more phenomenal was that once again Manning overthrew it but Burress leaped up with a defender draped on him and brought it down with his right hand. It would turn out to be the play of the game.

"We just had to get the ball in our receivers' hands and let them be the athletes," said Manning, who won for the first time on the road in his career. "We had to figure out a way not to hurt ourselves, and mostly we avoided that. We had too many mistakes, but they didn't end up hurting us."

Five plays later, Jacobs ran for a one-yard TD- the first of his two scores in the fourth quarter to make it 17-6. The Giants would seal it two drives later with Jacobs scoring again from two yards out.

New York's D held the 49ers to 138 total yards. It was the second straight week they didn't allow a TD.

Manning finished 18-of-33 for 251 yards and a TD while Burress and Shockey combined for nine receptions, 176 yards and a score.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Giants Look To Avoid Letdown In San Francisco

The Giants (5-2) have won two straight games entering San Francisco (2-5) Sunday (4:15 PM). They are coming off back-to-back emotional home wins over Denver and Washington. Two weeks ago against Denver with Wellington Mara ailing, Big Blue came from 23-10 down to win 24-23 on a last second touchdown from Eli Manning to Amani Toomer. Last week after paying their final respects to Mara, the Giants dominated every aspect in a 36-0 romp over the Redskins to take over first in the NFC East.

Tiki Barber rushed for a career best 206 yards and a touchdown. Afterwards, in a classy gesture, Barber gave the ball to one of Mara's grandsons, Tim McDonnell.

"It was a big day and a special day for me, especially considering the events of the past week," said Barber last week. "It's something I'll never forget."

Now, Big Blue must avoid a letdown on the road against an inferior but dangerous opponent in the 49ers. The Giants have yet to officially win a game away from Giants Stadium. Manning has never won on the road in his two-year career. Those things must change if New York is to continue the momentum they have.

"We have to challenge ourselves (because) we have not won on the road yet," noted Coach Tom Coughlin. "If we want to be the kind of team that we all profess to want to be, we have to win on the road. So there is the huge challenge right there."

The match-up pits the NFL's top scoring offense (29.9 PPG) against the league's worst defense (31.7 PPG). So, it should be an easy win, right? Not so fast. Try telling that to Tampa Bay last week, who were upset by the 49ers 15-10. Fourth string quarterback Cody Pickett came in for injured third stringer Ken Dorsey and helped spring the upset. Pickett will be looking to duplicate that success at Monster Park today.

Coughlin knows that his team must not take San Francisco lightly.

"If you stub your toe and don't follow that direction, you're going to have problems in this league," he said.

On Pickett, Coughlin has a hunch what could be in store.

"He is a very good athlete, without a doubt," he said. "And he has the ability to run the ball. He runs very well. He hasn’t been under the center very long to have some of the experiences that take place. He did finish the game strongly last weekend, and actually got some key first downs to keep the ball away from Tampa Bay."

Pickett will have help on the ground from leading rusher Kevin Barlow (420 yards, 2 TDs) and former Hurricane rookie Frank Gore (238 yards, TD). His main target could be Brandon Lloyd (21 receptions, 387 yards, 3 TDs).

Coming off their most convincing week on D, the Giants must come with the same emotion and not get lulled to sleep. They'll need big days from Michael Strahan (team best 6.5 sacks), Osi Umenyiora (5 sacks), Antonio Pierce (team leading 61 tackles, 2 Ints), Gibril Wilson (53 tackles, Int), Will Allen (33 tackles) and Curtis DeLoatch (30 tackles, Int).

On offense, Big Blue looks for a big day from Manning (1560 yards, 13 TDs, 5 Ints), Barber (689 rushing yards, 5 TDs), Plaxico Burress (40 receptions, 577 yards, 5 TDs), Jeremy Shockey (28 catches, 4 TDs) and a rejuvenated Toomer (21 receptions, 2 TDs).

Two players New York must be aware of are Tony Parrish (38 tackles, 2 Ints) and Julian Peterson (25 tackles, 2.5 sacks). Both are capable of making big plays.

If the Giants need any extra motivation, they have lost the last six to the 49ers and 11 of their last 13 in San Francisco. They'll look to change that trend Sunday.

Jets Look To Get On Track Against Chargers

The Jets (2-5) are coming off a bye, looking to get back on track against the Chargers (4-4) Sunday at The Meadowlands (1 PM). The last time out, they lost an ugly Monday Night Football game at Atlanta in a turnover fest, which included four from vet quarterback Vinny Testaverde (3 lost fumbles, pick).

Testaverde was knocked out of that game with a right Achilles' injury. He'll be back behind center today to try to spark Gang Green's sputtering offense. The Jets rank 30th in total yards (242.7 average) and have scored just 92 points (13.1 PPG) in seven games. That must turn around on Sunday.

"We haven't had a lot of success completing drives," coach Herman Edwards said. "We've got to establish some drives. Whether that's running it or passing it, you've got to get some rhythm in your offense and don't turn the ball over."

Since returning to the Jets for his second go-round, Testaverde has yet to throw for a touchdown in three starts. Though he does have two QB sneaks, New York needs him to connect with a receiver through the air to keep defenses honest. Leading rusher Curtis Martin (461 yards, 4 TDs) has struggled for yards due to opponents stacking the box to contain him.

"I don't think it's just one guy, it's a collective thing offensively," the Jets QB said. "We can all improve and hopefully that's the direction we're going in. It's not just one guy it's all of us. We offensively haven't helped this team to win any games. We need to do that."

Testaverde will need to find receivers Laveranues Coles (35 catches, 385 yards, TD) and Justin McCareins (19 catches, 363 yards) along with tight end Chris Baker (16 catches, 220 yards, TD).

Against the 21st ranked defense (335.5 YPG), Testaverde should be able to move the ball down field. One player he must be aware of is leading tackler Donnie Edwards (84 tackles, sack, 2 interceptions). Bhawoh Jue (36 tackles, 3 Ints) also can be dangerous.

On D, the Jets should have their hands full with All-Pro back LaDainian Tomlinson (728 rushing yards, 10 TDs, 218 receiving, TD). Arguably the most diversified back in the NFL, Tomlinson can hurt you on the ground and in the air. He's even tossed for three scores out of a halfback option that the Jets must be on the lookout for.

While they're trying to hold him in check, they also have to deal with QB Drew Brees (1829 yards, 13 TDs, 7 Ints) and primary target Antonio Gates (43 receptions, 6 TDs). Keenan McCardell (31 catches, 444 yards, 6 TDs) shouldn't be overlooked. While Tomlinson and Gates draw doubleteams, Gang Green's secondary must pay attention to him or could get burned.

The Jets need big games from Jonathan Vilma (team best 82 tackles, Int), John Abraham (4.5 sacks), Dewayne Robertson (3 sacks, 27 tackles), Erik Coleman (50 tackles, Int), David Barrett (27 tackles, 2 Ints) and Ty Law (team leading 4 picks).

At stake for New York could be their slim playoff fate. They'll need an inspirational performance against a tough opponent Sunday.