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.

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