Saturday, December 31, 2005

Crosby Spoils New Year's For Rangers

It was not the best New Year's for the Rangers at Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby's power play goal with 1:29 left in overtime gave the Penguins (10-19-8) a 4-3 victory over the Rangers at Mellon Arena Saturday afternoon.

In a game which featured 16 power plays (eight for each team) and six power play goals (three apiece), a questionable call on Ranger defenseman Marek Malik put New York in a hole they never got out of in OT. On the heels of a late Fedor Tyutin point blast for the Rangers' third PPG which sent the contest past regulation, referee Craig Spada whistled Malik for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving the Pens a four-on-three to start the extra session. Malik had protested an earlier no-call in which a Penguin took down Michal Rozsival late in regulation.

Considering a couple of Spada's earlier calls which rewarded each team with five-on-three's both scored on, Malik had a point. But none of that mattered when Rozsival inadvertently cleared a puck over the glass for a Delay of Game penalty which doomed any Ranger hopes for two points.

Having setup Tomas Surovy for the game's opening goal off a two-on-one rush, this time Crosby finished off the Rangers when he rebounded home a Michel Ouellet shot into an open side with Henrik Lundqvist down to give Pittsburgh its second straight win to conclude 2005. The multi-point game gave Crosby nine points in his last four.

For the Rangers, it was a blown opportunity to come into 2006 with some momentum. Especially with a pivotal five-game homestand which begins Tuesday against Tampa Bay with the Atlantic-leading Flyers coming in along with Florida, Calgary and Edmonton.

Coming off a big win over the Islanders in which they scored the last six goals Wednesday night, the Rangers dug themselves a quick hole when Crosby setup Surovy 1:35 in. Taking advantage of a missed pokecheck by Tyutin and a poor coverage by Maxim Kondratiev, Crosby found Surovy alone for a quick wrister which beat Lundqvist. A sharper Pens club came close to making it 2-0 but Ziggy Palffy hit the crossbar.

The Blueshirts drew even when Jaromir Jagr one-timed home a Martin Rucinsky feed for a five-on-three goal. It was Jagr's 25th of the season and first PPG since November 20th against Boston- taking full advantage of a questionable Spada hooking call on Colby Armstrong.

Spada wasn't done calling penalties which begged the question of whether some referees are overemphasizing the new NHL rulebook. With the Rangers already down a man on Tyutin's second minor of the game, Spada ruled that Jed Ortmeyer hooked down a Penguin. Replays seemed to indicate that he lifted the stick. Given their own two-man advantage, Pittsburgh capitalized. When Ouellet put home a John LeClair redirection pass with one second left on the five-on-three, Pittsburgh reclaimed the lead at 10:41 of the second.

However, it didn't last long. Just 1:56 later, Rucinsky converted a Jagr pass with a perfect wrist shot top corner past Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game heading to the third. Despite somehow only managing three shots in a lackluster second, the Rangers had a chance to win their second straight.

Instead of coming out with fire in the third, New York was content to sit back, giving the suddenly confident Pens more chances. This despite getting the first two power plays of the period, which they couldn't even muster a shot on.

When the Pens were given another five-on-three on undisciplined penalties by Kondratiev and Rozsival 46 seconds apart with under seven minutes remaining, they once again pounced. This time, Surovy broke his stick on a one-timer but the puck went through a maze of players and a surprised Lundqvist to give the Pens their third lead with 5:47 left. It was Surovy's second consecutive two-goal game.

Unable to get much done all game at even-strength, the Rangers were able to squeeze out a point when Tyutin bombed a Rucinsky feed into the far post at 16:18. In a game which they were outshot 37-17 (25-6 after the first), they should consider that point a gift.

Notes: Tom Poti and Steve Rucchin sat out with the flu. ... With a goal and assist, Tyutin had his second straight two-point game. ... Lundqvist made 33 saves while Fleury turned aside 14 of 17 for his second win in a row. ... Ouellet finished with a season high three points (1-2-3). ... Rucinsky finished with a goal and two assists while Jagr and Straka each had two points. ... Fifth in the East, Rangers (22-12-5, 49 points) host eighth place Lightning (19-17-3, 41 points) Tuesday night. The 49 points is the most New York has had through 39 games since the '95-96 season.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Martin Making Strides On Devil Blueline

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ- With Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer gone from the blueline, Devils defenseman Paul Martin is one player they're looking for to step up this season. In his second year, the 24-year-old former Golden Gopher has been given plenty of responsibility- logging over 23 minutes-per-game including the power play.

Recently, the Devils have failed to connect on the man-advantage. After a 2-1 defeat at Toronto Monday in which they misfired on all six, they were four for their last 100 heading into tonight's game against Washington. In a 1-0 loss to the Thrashers Friday night, they failed on eight chances.

"We got the puck to the net" Martin remarked. "We got some rebounds but we just didn't have anyone put it in. Finish."

Despite the team's power play slide, 11 of Martin's 14 points (2-12-14) this season have come while on it. His 14 points in '05-06 put him on pace to establish new career highs. The Minnesota native scored a power play goal in a 4-2 loss to the Islanders last Wednesday. Ten of his 12 assists have also come via the PP. That figure paces all Devil defensemen and is second to Scott Gomez' 11 power play assists.

After starting the season paired with Dan McGillis, Martin saw some time with number one defenseman Brian Rafalski under former coach Larry Robinson. However, after Robinson resigned due to health-related issues, President and GM Lou Lamoriello took over on an interim basis. Since then, the former 2000 second round draft pick has been paired with Richard Matvichuk.

"They're trying to find combinations that work and we play the best together," he pointed out.

While at The University of Minnesota, Martin was part of back-to-back NCAA championships in 2002 and 2003. In '02-03, he posted nine goals and 30 assists for 39 points in 45 games. For his three-year Gopher career, he finished with 20 goals and 77 assists for 97 points in 127 games. Aside from winning two national titles, Martin was named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team, NCAA West Second All-American Team and WCHA Second All-Star Team in '03. An impressive list of accomplishments for a young player.

Signed by New Jersey prior to the '03-04 season, Martin continued his development by sticking with the big club. As the season went on, he adjusted well to the NHL growing as a player. By the conclusion of his rookie season, he took part in 70 games finishing with six goals and 20 assists for 24 points plus a respectable plus-12 rating. Martin showed so much promise that he was selected as a late addition by Team USA to participate in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. Though Team USA fell short of repeating their '96 success, Martin distinguished himself- pairing up with New Jersey teammate Rafalski to form an effective duo which moved the puck and jumped into the play effectively.

As Martin continues to improve, Devil fans should have much to be excited about when it comes to the soft spoken defenseman. He has a good head on his shoulders and knows where expectations should be. With the Devils on a three-game losing streak, Martin understands why Lamoriello is changing things up.

"You're going to mix it up and try something new when things aren't going the right way."

For Martin and the Devils, it can't come soon enough.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Devils Powerless Against Thrashers

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ- Once again, the power play didn't come through for the Devils. Given eight opportunities including a four minute double minor near the end of the second period, the Devils couldn't score the goal that might have turned around a 1-0 shutout loss to Atlanta (15-16-5) at the Continental Airlines Arena Friday night. Rookie Michael Garnett baffled them all night long, making 29 saves to record his first NHL shutout.

A frustrated crowd booed them throughout as New Jersey misfired time and time again against an opponent who has been a thorn in their side this season. Atlanta improved to 3-0-0 against the Devils with New Jersey's only point coming in a 3-2 OT loss last Thursday.

"We had our chances," said Sergei Brylin. "It was one of those games but one shot was the difference. [Garnett] played well. Looks like they got our number this year."

"I couldn't ask for a better effort," Coach/GM Lou Lamoriello said. "The attitude is good. But we didn't get anything out of our power play and that has been the Achilles' heel lately.

"I have no answers at this point why we're not scoring. We have our chances. They're just not going in."

"We seem to be more on the perimeter right now," pointed out Martin Brodeur. "We need to have a lot of traffic to score goals and right now, we're on the outside."

The Devils generated several scoring chances which produced two close calls in the first- including reviews of a Brian Gionta backhand which was on the goal line and a Brylin redirect which Gomez nearly stuffed home at the end of the first. Unfortunately for New Jersey, the hockey gods weren't on their side.

"It just wouldn't drop," a frustrated John Madden said. "It's just the way things go sometimes. As far as the team's effort, it was there. I thought we played well defensively. I thought Marty played great and I think when this team starts scoring goals, we'll be right there."

Despite controlling play in the opening period which they outshot Atlanta 14-8, the Devils had nothing to show for it. Having failed on their first four man-advantages to take the lead, they saw Atlanta score on a PPG when Marian Hossa redirected a Niclas Havelid shot past Brodeur at 9:03 of the second. Ex-Devil Bobby Holik added an assist.

After killing off a Zach Parise hooking minor, the Devs would get their best chance to tie it when Marc Savard was whistled for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct with 4:36 left. But much to the dismay of the paying customers, they got little done.

Remarkably, the Thrashers were quicker to the puck for most of the third period. If not for some stellar goaltending from Brodeur, the margin could have been worse. Atlanta outshot the Devils 8-5- keeping them in check.

Madden was setup by Jamie Langenbrunner in the slot but Garnett gloved his one-timer labeled for the top corner with 3:21 remaining to preserve the shutout.

After winning their first game over the Rangers under Lamoriello, it was the Devils' second consecutive loss.

Brodeur finished with 22 saves.

Notes: Thrasher left wing Ilya Kovalchuk sat out due to a one-game suspension for tossing his stick into the stands in a 6-5 shootout loss against Washington Thursday night. ... Forty-one year-old defenseman Tommy Albelin made his season debut for New Jersey, taking 17 shifts (11:09). "It was nice to be back. It means everything," said Albelin. ... Seven defensemen dressed while 11 forwards played. ... Devils (15-15-5) have three days off including Christmas before returning to action at Toronto (18-14-3) Monday night.

Five Devils Tabbed For Olympics: Five Devils will take part in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy next February. Martin Brodeur will try to backstop Canada to another gold medal. The trio of Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski will participate for Team USA. Viktor Kozlov is the lone Russian representative. Each received a nice ovation from the crowd Friday when announced during a break with Brodeur getting the loudest reception.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Poti, Power Play Give Rangers Victory For Christmas

Entering Thursday night's game against Tampa Bay, the Ranger power play was just 2-for-36 in the last six contests. However, a shift in strategy from assistant coach Mike Pelino resulted in three power play goals- sparking them to a 4-2 win over the Lightning (18-14-3) to snap a season long three-game losing streak at The Garden.

With Martin Rucinsky moved to the point along with Tom Poti, the Blueshirts made the Lightning pay the price for taking penalties- finishing three-for-five including Poti's winning blast from the point with 1:48 left in regulation. Rucinsky had a goal and two assists while Poti added two points.

For the second straight game, the Rangers couldn't protect a lead after two periods. This time, they allowed Tampa Bay to comeback from two goals down to force a dramatic finish.

Having controlled much of the play the first two periods to earn a 2-0 lead, the Rangers were put on notice early in the third when Ruslan Fedotenko one-timed a Brad Richards pass over Henrik Lundqvist's goalstick to cut the deficit in half just 43 seconds in.

Looking to break a two-game losing streak of their own, a desperate Lightning club continued to apply pressure on the Rangers with a relentless forecheck which generated several chances including a point blank one for Fredrik Modin. But Lundqvist robbed him with a quick glove save.

Despite solid netminding from Lundqvist in his first start since a December 13th 3-2 defeat to Vancouver, the Bolts kept coming and eventually would get the equalizer on their seventh power play of the night. Kept in check previously, this time the Lightning connected when Vinny Prospal setup a Richards point blast through a screen past Lundqvist inside the right post to tie it with 8:44 remaining.

With the MSG crowd sensing doom for the fourth straight game, Lundqvist stayed sharp while his teammates picked it up. Both teams traded chances to try to win it. But an unfortunate break for Tampa ultimately proved to be the difference.

Forced in the corner by forechecking Rangers, Nolan Pratt tried to clear the puck into his own bench to get a stoppage. But as luck would have it for New York, Pratt's clearing attempt went over the bench into the stands prompting referees Wes McCauley and Kevin Pollock to confer before handing out a Delay of Game minor with only 3:02 remaining. Despite strong protests from Tampa coach John Tortorella, it was too late.

Having already scored twice on the man-advantage, the Rangers made it a hat trick of PPG's when Poti scored his first goal of the season. Having earlier heard boos for passing up a shot, this time Poti rifled in an early Christmas gift past John Grahame's outstretched glove to draw cheers. Jaromir Jagr worked the puck off the boards to Martin Straka, who deflected it to Poti for the one-timer. Rucinsky added an empty netter with 43 seconds to go, sending the MSG crowd home happy for the holidays.

"The puck just bounced right in front, and I was in perfect position," Poti told reporters. "I just stepped into it, and I got lucky it finally went in."

"I would like nothing more for Tom Poti to become so important to this team that the fans recognize that," explained Coach Tom Renney.

"It's a huge win," added Poti. "It's tough losing three games in a row, and to lose four, it's time to start panicking. We came out tonight with a concerted effort, and we got the job done."

Having been outworked in their previous three losses, a determined Ranger squad came out with a purpose, outshooting Tampa 14-7 in the first. They took the lead thanks to some hard work from rookie Petr Prucha. Prucha- who drew a roughing minor on Chris Dingman- took a Jagr feed and from his knees beat Grahame for his 16th of the season at 11:23.

Martin Straka made the Rangers two-for-two on the PP 9:09 into the second when he put home his own rebound off a nice passing play setup by Rucinsky. It broke a six-game goal drought.

Tampa's Vincent Lecavalier had a goal disallowed late in the second due to high sticking Dominic Moore.

Lundqvist made 30 saves while Grahame turned aside 32 of 35.

Notes: Renney scratched center Michael Nylander for taking three penalties (8 PIM) in their 3-1 loss to New Jersey Tuesday. Returning after sitting out two straight, Ville Nieminen replaced Nylander. ... Maxim Kondratiev returned to the blueline while Jason Strudwick shifted to forward, forcing Ryan Hollweg to sit. ... Richards' PPG extended Tampa's streak with at least one goal on the man-advantage to a franchise best 10 consecutive games. ... Jagr added three assists. ... Rangers (21-11-4) have a three-day Christmas break before returning to action at conference leader Ottawa (23-6-3) Monday night.

Seven Rangers Represented In Turin: Seven Rangers will take part in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Five will represent the Czech Republic including Jagr, Rucinsky, Straka, Prucha and Marek Malik. Lundqvist will represent Sweden while Marcel Hossa will compete for Slovakia.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Lack of Discipline BeDevils Rangers

Sound off the alarms. The home losing streak is at three. In as undisciplined a game as they could play, the Rangers fell to the Devils (15-13-5) 3-1 at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night. The three-game losing streak is the longest of the season thus far and requires immediate solutions to the sudden lack of offense- the Rangers have scored just four goals during the stretch.

"You can't win scoring one goal," said Jaromir Jagr to reporters. "The way we played was not good. ... I'm worried that we don't score goals. I'm not worried about anything else."

Coach Tom Renney also might want to address the lack of discipline from veteran center Michael Nylander, who took four penalties including a high sticking double minor. That's eight penalty minutes for those keeping score. But who is? Not when the Blueshirts time and time again went to the penalty box an exasperating 12 times- forcing their second ranked penalty killing unit to spend way too much time (18:12) on the ice while Jagr (18:30) sat. They were a perfect 11-for-11, including neutralizing two New Jersey five-on-three's. Not that the Devils were exactly firing on all cylinders coming in. Unable to convert on the PP, the Devils are now 3 for their last 81.

"When you're winning 1-0 and you lose, I guess you start to think maybe we're taking penalties. But really we kind of handed it over to the Devils," said a frustrated Renney. "Any kind of momentum or flow you could create off of rolling your lines certainly gets disrupted by having to kill so many penalties."

Despite killing them off while trying to protect a 1-0 lead via a Steve Rucchin redirect setup by a diving Petr Prucha at 14:19 of the second, the Blueshirts ultimately came undone in a 16-second span. With less than six minutes left, the Devils struck twice in stunning fashion to take the lead. First, Brian Gionta tallied his team-leading 19th goal off a goalmouth scramble when he flipped a backhand past Kevin Weekes. The go-ahead goal was more startling. Off a Brian Rafalski pass, John Madden fired a slapshot from the left wing, which defelected off Michal Rozsival right to a wide open Alexander Mogilny, who one-timed the early Christmas gift into an open net.

From there, a desperate Devil team clamped down. Madden added an empty net goal with 13 seconds left to ceil the Rangers' fate. Madden finished with a goal and two assists while Rafalski added two helpers. Brodeur had 30 saves while Weekes turned aside 29 of 31.

Entering the game on the heels of Larry Robinson resigning due to health issues and ex-Ranger Vlad Malakhov's sudden retirement, New Jersey came out looking to get their first win in regulation for December. Their only two previous victories in eight came via the shootout. With 63-year-old GM Lou Lamoriello behind the bench making his regular season coaching debut for a franchise he turned around, the Devils came out with more determination than in previous games.

Though they were outshot 11-7 in the first, the period had to be considered a success. Especially with the Rangers unable to generate anything. Lamoriello- who previously coached the Devils once during the 1988 playoffs to a 7-1 loss would be rewarded with his first NHL win.

"We were 6 minutes away from a good win against a good team," Weekes said. "They were hungry, obviously, with Mr. Lamoriello behind the bench. We almost had a victory. It's a tough pill to swallow."

Notes: The Devils earned their first regular season victory over the Rangers in five meetings. With three games remaining, the Rangers hold a 3-1-1 edge. ... Madden's goal was his first since November 19 at Ottawa. His three points were a season high. ... Gionta has five goals in five games against the Rangers this season. ... Rangers lost a game for the first time all season when leading after two. ... Continuing a disturbing trend, the Rangers went 0-for-6 on the power play. They're 2 for their last 36 in the past six games. ... Rangers (20-11-4) look to snap their three-game losing streak when they complete a four-game homestand at MSG against Tampa Bay (18-13-3) Thursday night.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hard Hits: Championship Baseball Like It Oughta Be

"Part of it is cost of living, part of it is how we see ourselves in the marketplace. This team is going to be a fun and, we think, a championship-caliber team."- Mets Executive VP of Business Operations Dave Howard on why the Amazins have raised ticket prices an estimated seven percent according to Newsday.

Would Mr. Howard like to put some money on that final statement? Earlier this week, I received an angry email from a Mets season ticketholder who wasn't too pleased as to why the ball club hiked tickets so much (10 dollar increase). This despite not spending one more dime on payroll compared to last year they claimed. And here's the kicker. According to them, this top notch organization didn't have the guts to tell them how much they raised costs. Brilliant. Isn't it?

I can't blame them for being upset. If my team hadn't made the postseason the past five seasons and suddenly had the nerve to pull that, I'd feel the same way. Sadly, it's common in sports that when a team starts acquiring big name players; no matter what happened the previous season, loyal fans like Scott Busy are going to pay through the roof. It's just how it is today, which doesn't make it right.

But as long as the Mets are a "championship-caliber team," it will be alright. The problem is that you can have the best looking roster on paper and it might not translate on the field. The Yankees are definitive proof of this the past five Octobers. At least they got that far.

On paper, Mets GM Omar Minaya has put together a solid lineup which should do some damage next season in the NL East. Acquiring Carlos Delgado to play first along with Paul Lo Duca to catch should make the Amazins formidable. Combine that with rising stars Jose Reyes and David Wright and established stars Carlos Beltran and Cliff Floyd and New York has some significant lumber to send to the plate. Toss in flamethrowing southpaw Billy Wagner out of the bullpen to close games and this team looks like it's in position to finally overtake the Braves.

The problem with this sort of thought process is that no championship is ever won on paper. They still have to play 162 games and win enough to make the postseason. Certainly no guarantee. What if Pedro Martinez suddenly gets old in year two of his four-year contract? What if Tom Glavine, Kris Benson, Jae Seo, Steve Trachsel and Victor Zambrano can't get enough batters out? What if Minaya doesn't upgrade his bullpen so they can get the ball to Wagner with a lead? And the last time I checked, Kaz Matsui was still the Mets second baseman. Surely, they're not going into next year with him. Right? Still have to find a taker and a replacement.

But no worry. With how Minaya has parted with prospects this offseason, he'll probably give away the last ones worth a dime to get suddenly disenchanted Orioles star Miguel Tejada. Think it can't happen? The Mets are a now team. As long as Pedro can still baffle hitters, the window to win is open.

One time a few years ago under Steve Phillips, the Mets stole the back pages by acquiring Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar. That team was supposed to be an instant success, only it never happened. Before even stepping foot on the field Vaughn had a sandwich named after him and ate his way onto the DL never to be heard from again. Alomar suddenly forgot how to play second and also couldn't hit a lick. Amazing what can happen under the bright lights in the city that never sleeps. Just ask A-rod why he couldn't come through when the team in the Bronx needed him most. Ditto Big Unit.

Building a winner requires many things. You can have all the talent in the world and it still might not work out. I've said it before. Without the right mix in the clubhouse, you're not going to be successful. It doesn't mean all 25 players need to get along. But some of those big names must check their egos at the door for the good of the team. If everyone contributes and takes pride in their roles, then the sky is the limit.

Championship baseball like it oughta be.

Hitting Back:

-Incidentally, Miguel Tejada sounds a lot like Alex Rodriguez after a couple of years of losing in Texas. Nobody forced him to sign with Baltimore just like nobody told A-rod to take the money and run to Arlington. Guess these two star shortstops have even more in common than first thought. When the going gets tough, they whine their way out. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it that Billy Ocean's original hit had.

-Who told Joe Torre that recruiting Nomar Garciaparra was a good idea? Or is this just a Boss thing with him being an ex-Red Sock? When are the Yanks going to try to get Dave Roberts?

-Advice to Anna Benson: Nobody cares about your political views. They just won't tell it to your face.

-Someone can tell Larry Brown that it's okay to start earning his 10 million dollar paycheck with these Knicks.

-On the topic, how does David Lee not get off the bench?

-If the Nets keep this up at home, pretty soon, they'll become the first team in the NBA to have no fans at a game. Not that you could tell the difference anyway.

-Will the real Vince Carter please report for duty?

-Even when the Jets win, it's not for the best. There's always next year.

-Tiki Barber is the Edgerrin James of the NFC. Week in and week out, Barber is the best Giant on offense. A model of consistency. Whether it's running for 100 yards, taking a screenpass to the house or pass protecting for Eli Manning, the Giants' best offensive weapon gets the job done. One of these days, he'll finally be recognized for how special a player he really is.

-Does anyone think the Colts aren't going to obliterate the '72 Dolphins perfect season?

-I'm still waiting for Texas to show up at Continental Airlines Arena and challenge Duke. Better hope the football team doesn't lay an egg against USC.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Rangers Fall To Canucks Late

Coach Tom Renney called it a litmus test for his team. Against one of the top Western Conference teams, his Rangers came just short of the challenge- falling 3-2 against Vancouver (19-9-2) to end their five-game home win streak Tuesday night at The Garden. It was their first loss on home ice since a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh November 7.

"We lost, so we're not as good," Renney said to reporters afterwards. "The game could've gone any way at the end but the more experienced team prevailed."

In an ultracompetitive game, both teams took turns controlling play. Early on, it was the Canucks who created several scoring chances off Ranger turnovers. But Henrik Lundqvist stood tall in net, stopping all 17 first period shots including point blank robberies on Ryan Kesler and Richard Park in the last 24 seconds. Lundqvist's counterpart Alex Auld was also sharp in repelling 12 Ranger shots to keep the game scoreless.

Having outplayed the Rangers, Vancouver took early control in the second when the much maligned Todd Bertuzzi beat Lundqvist on a breakaway 1:01 into the period to give the Canucks the lead. Returning to the Garden for the first time since his controversial cheapshot of Dominic Moore's brother Steve which drew a season-ending suspension in '03-04, Bertuzzi ignored the boos and converted Ed Jovanovski's breakout pass, beating Lundqvist with a quick wrist shot low for his ninth of the season. It was his second goal in the last 12 games.

But in a more even stanza, the Blueshirts tied it up 7:17 later when sizzling rookie Petr Prucha extended his goal-streak to six games on a power play. Off a Tom Poti blast from the point, Prucha deflected the puck off Auld, then deposited the rebound over Auld's shoulder for his 14th of the season at 8:28. Poti and Martin Straka added assists.

Energized from the goal, the top line of Martin Rucinsky, Straka and Jaromir Jagr nearly put the Rangers ahead with some effective cycling down low. But checked well all game long by the Vancouver blueline tandem of Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo, they were held in check.

Tied late in the second, the game intensified due to some physical play from Bertuzzi and Ranger sparkplug Ryan Hollweg along the boards. When Bertuzzi decked Hollweg, he went after a Canuck and caught Markus Naslund up high with an elbow. With his team about to go on a power play, an angry Bertuzzi went after Hollweg and drew a fight instigator and a 10 minute misconduct (17 PIM) that resulted in a four-on-four.

A Lundqvist turnover nearly resulted in a Vancouver goal. But Jarkko Ruutu's wraparound try was blocked by Darius Kasparaitis. Though Fedor Tyutin took a hooking penalty with 1:12 left, his teammates killed it off. For the night, the NHL's number two ranked penalty kill was five-for-five.

Having learned before the game that number one goalie Dan Cloutier would have knee surgery which should keep him out four months, Auld continued to play strong in net for Vancouver in a busy third. He was sharp early to keep the contest tied.

The Canucks retook the lead when Daniel Sedin beat Lundqvist at 6:35 with a wrist shot from the right circle which eluded his left pad. Off some great cycling with his brother Henrik, ex-Ranger Anson Carter and the pinching Ohlund, Sedin circled the net with the puck and used a Ranger defenseman as a screen to surprise Lundqvist. Henrik Sedin notched an assist and Ohlund picked up his second helper of the night.

But as they have done all season long, the Rangers got right back up and knotted the contest. Just 1:06 later off a brilliant rush setup by Michael Nylander, Petr The Great once again found twine. With Nylander drawing two Canucks at the blueline, he fed a streaking Prucha, who ripped a slapshot inside the post for his ninth goal in the last six. It tied him for second with Colorado's Marek Svatos in rookie goalscoring- three behind Capital sniper Alexander Ovechkin.

But in their best period of the night in which they outshot Vancouver 16-6, this time luck wasn't on their side. Setup by Jagr in the slot on a power play, Prucha hit the post to prevent his first career hat trick with less than nine minutes left.

The tide would turn on a flukey play. With the Canucks pressing for the lead, Lundqvist stopped Park from in close. However, the rebound caromed out to Nylander, who tried to fire the puck out of harm's way. But instead, it trickled right to an on-rushing Matt Cooke, who in one motion backhanded the puck over Lundqvist for the winner with 4:31 remaining.

After Auld stopped Tyutin and Straka in the last four minutes, the Rangers had one last chance in the final seconds. But Tyutin overskated a Nylander rebound with Auld out of position as the buzzer sounded.

Notes: With Hollweg returning to the lineup, Marcel Hossa was a healthy scratch. ... Prucha has 12 goals in his last 12 games. On Prucha's second goal of the night, Jason Ward picked up his seventh assist of the season. ... The game was Marek Malik's first against his former team. He finished plus-one in 20:05 of action. ... The loss was only Lundqvist's second at MSG. He turned aside 28 of 31 shots while Auld made 34 saves. ... Rangers (20-9-4) are off until Sunday when they host Colorado (16-12-3) at 5 PM.

Martin A Model Of Consistency

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ- Throughout his 11-year NFL career, Curtis Martin has been a model of consistency. In 11 seasons with the Patriots and Jets, the 32-year-old five-time Pro Bowler has rushed for more than 14,000 yards in his career. He became just the fourth back to reach that mark in a Sunday night game against the Saints on November 27- joining Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith (18,355), Walter Payton (16,726) and Barry Sanders (15,269).

Entering his eighth season with the Jets, Martin was also in exclusive company with Sanders as the only backs in NFL history to ever rush for 1,000 yards in each of their first 10 years. Until he sat out Sunday for the first time since October 11, 1998, Martin had played in 119 consecutive regular season games and 126 total (7 playoffs). Playing through right knee pain much of the season, he was trying to match Sanders as the only backs to rush for 1,000 yards in their first 11 years. Having ran for 735 yards in 12 games leading up to Sunday, much of the focus was on Martin. That all ended against Oakland.

"Being the competitor that I am, it's hard for me to know when not to compete. At that time I usually turn to people around me whose opinions I trust, and that's what I did," Martin said.

"The one thing about [Martin], if he doesn’t think he can help the football team, he won’t do it," said Coach Herm Edwards. "If he thinks he can help the football team, then he will play. It would be the first time he didn’t show up for one since I’ve been here."

Possibly inspired by his teammate, defensive end John Abraham had two sacks which forced fumbles recovering one while defensive tackle James Reed retrieved the other in sparking the Jets to their first win in over two months- 26-10 over the Raiders to snap a seven-game losing streak.

"When I look at the offense for one guy to keep me going, it's Curtis," Abraham said. "He comes out every week and plays his heart out. It hurt to see it ending like this."

In eight seasons with the Jets, Martin has always been the one constant on offense. He became the all-time franchise rushing leader in Week Two of 2004- passing Freeman McNeil. Counting this year, he has run for over 10,000 yards (10,302) in his Jets career.

Last year, he became the oldest back (31 years old) to win the NFL rushing title with a career best 1,697 yards- edging Seattle's Shaun Alexander. Martin also finished with 14 touchdowns and was named a First-team All Pro.

Before missing Sunday's game; amazingly enough, Martin had only sat out of four games in his brilliant career. It's not like he didn't play through injuries as he had this year while the Jets struggled. Even with his team out of the playoffs, the focus was on one thing. Winning.

"That’s more important than anything right now, getting the third," he pointed out last Thursday. "That’s because you’re always pressing to win a game and we haven’t won a game around here in a long time and we just need to win a game. We just need to win."

Despite his accomplishments, the classy former University of Pittsburgh star has always put the team ahead of individual goals. It was never more evident than when he went over 14,000 yards. After a 23-yard run which gave him the mark, Martin handed the ball to the official instead of keeping it. After falling short that night, he put things in perspective.

"As a professional, you would trade all the milestones for a win," he pointed out. "It really doesn’t matter if we are going to the playoffs or not, 3-8 would have meant everything to me tonight."

"He is so focused in the game. A lot of the time he doesn’t think about that stuff," Edwards noted. "I went over and shook his hand and told him. He just got his mind on playing again and what he was trying to do. That is the kind of guy he is.”

Not surprisingly, Martin was unaware that he had joined such exclusive company.

"When it happened I was on the sidelines and I didn’t even realize it until they flashed it up on the JumboTron. No big celebration – none of that," he said. "Like I said, I feel the celebrating will come when I’m done with football and it will be something I will be able to look back on and appreciate. I appreciate it now, but I think it will mean even more to me when I’m done playing."

One thing is certain as Martin faces season-ending arthroscopic knee surgery. Never count him out. Something his coach knows all too well.

"He is always available. He always seems to answer the bell," Edwards said. "When you look over his career, it’s kind of amazing. When you talk about those 14,000 yards, how many of those have been big runs? That’s a testament to him and the type of player he is. He’s had a remarkable career and it just keeps going on. If you are betting, you always bet on Curtis Martin."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Feely Redeems Himself Against Eagles

Call it redemption. Jay Feely's 36-yard field goal hooked just inside the left post, allowing the Giants (9-4) to escape with a 26-23 overtime win over the Eagles (5-8).

Having missed three potential winners in an OT loss at Seattle two weeks ago and four of his last five field goals entering Sunday, Feely was a perfect four-for-four (24, 21, 27, 36). Feely's big kick took the heat off Eli Manning, who threw three interceptions late in the game, which allowed Eagles kicker David Akers to force OT with a 50-yard FG.

After Manning was picked off by Brian Dawkins with 8:03 left in OT, the Giant defense forced a turnover to setup Feely's winner. With Mike McMahon flushed out of the pocket on a third-and-20, Osi Umenyiora's NFL-leading 12th sack forced a fumble, which Kenderick Allen recovered at the Philadelphia 27. Four plays later, Feely connected to give Big Blue a big victory- keeping them a game ahead of Dallas, who cameback to beat Kansas City 31-28.

Six days removed from an embarrassing 42-0 Monday night thrashing at the hands of Seattle, the Eagles played much better against their NFC East rivals. After a Manning four-yard touchdown pass to Tiki Barber five minutes in, Philadelphia rookie back Ryan Moats responded with a 40-yard dash down the sidelines to tie the score.

But the Giants retook the lead on a fourth down QB sneak from Manning at the goal line. Before that, Brandon Jacobs was stopped twice as was Tiki Barber.

Feely increased the lead to 17-7 with his first kick of the day with 5:41 left in the half. But just when New York seemed comfortably ahead, the Eagles struck twice in the final two minutes to tie the game at the half.

First, Moats ran for his second TD of the game- this time from 18 yards out to cut it to 17-14. After two Giants penalties prevented them from moving the chains, the Eagles got the ball back near midfield with over a minute left. Six plays later, Akers hit from 42 yards out to tie it at 17.

Philadelphia had a chance to take their only lead in the second half but Akers' 49-yard FG hit the crossbar, falling short. Taking over from their own 39, Manning led the Giants on a 14-play 58-yard drive which chewed up 7:37. When it stalled at the Eagles' 3, Feely was good from 21 to put them up 20-17 with 3:24 left in the third quarter.

New York increased its lead to six early in the fourth quarter. On the strength of a 32-yard Barber run, they drove down to the Philly 9 to setup Feely's third kick of the day. Barber had another big game, finishing with 195 total yards including 124 on the ground.

An Akers 36-yard FG cut it to 23-20 with 6:36 remaining to setup the dramatic finish. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they fell short- becoming the fifth consecutive to miss the playoffs after losing in the Super Bowl.

Notes: In his first start for Philadelphia, Moats finished with 114 rushing yards on 11 carries. ... Despite tossing three picks, Manning was 28-of-44 for 312 yards. ... Giants lost Kareem McKenzie (hamstring), Luke Petitgout (ankle), William Joseph (leg) and Antonio Pierce (back) all to injuries in the first half. ... Giants swept the season series against the Eagles for the first time since 2000. One team has taken both games in 19 of the last 21 years.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Abraham Helps Jets Stop Seven Game Losing Streak

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ- It was a long time coming for John Abraham and the Jets. Having lost seven consecutive games in a tough season which has been decimated by injuries, Abraham helped lead the Jets (3-10) to a 26-10 triumph over Oakland (4-9) Sunday at The Meadowlands- their first win since a 14-12 triumph over Tampa Bay October 9.

Abraham sacked Oakland backup quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo twice, forcing two fumbles (one he recovered) and helping force four Raider turnovers. QB Brooks Bollinger threw for a touchdown and ran for 56 yards- a team record for a Jet QB surpassing Richard Todd's 53 established against New Orleans on December 14, 1980. Rookie kicker Mike Nugent made four field goals and former sixth round pick Cedric Houston scored his first career TD.

Before the game, it was learned that All-Pro Curtis Martin would miss his first game in over seven years. He had started 126 straight (119 regular season, 7 playoffs) but finally decided that the right knee pain he was playing with was too much to continue. He'll have season-ending arthroscopic knee surgery.

"Being the competitor that I am, it's hard for me to know when not to compete. At that time I usually turn to people around me whose opinions I trust, and that's what I did," Martin said.

One of the leaders on the defense, Abraham took it to heart.

"When I look at the offense for one guy to keep me going, it's Curtis," Abraham said. "He comes out every week and plays his heart out. It hurt to see it ending like this."

After Nugent staked Gang Green to a 3-0 lead on a 33-yard FG, Ty Law's sixth interception of the season helped setup Nugent from 20 yards to make it 6-0 with 5:23 left in the first half. But Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski sliced the lead in half with a 42-yard kick before half time.

With a chance to tie it early in the second half, Janikowski was wide right from 29. On the Jets next possession, Bollinger accounted for 42 total yards in driving them to the Oakland 17 before Nugent nailed his third FG of the day, this time from 35.

When Abraham sacked Tuiasosopo on the next play and recovered it at the Raider 34, it setup a Nugent 21-yard kick, which increased the lead to 12-3 with 3:37 left in the third quarter.

Abraham wasn't done. He once again forced Tuiasosopo to cough up the ball. This time, defensive tackle James Reed recovered it at the Oakland 29. It led to Bollinger's only TD pass of the day- a four-yard strike to Justin McCareins that put New York up 19-3 six seconds into the fourth quarter.

"We had a hell of a week of practice. Everybody came to practice ready to play," Abraham said.

But the Raiders came right back with a 20-yard TD Tuiasosopo pass to Jerry Porter, who recovered his own fumble in the end zone to cut it to 19-10 with 9:59 remaining.

However, the Jets wouldn't be denied of getting their third win of the season. In his first career start, Houston rushed for 74 yards including a two-yard score late which put the contest out of reach.

"I thought our guys just kept playing; that's what the season's about," said Coach Herm Edwards. "Every week we tried to win the game, and we've played pretty well at home. Our fans have been very, very good to us and they helped us again today. That's a credit to this football team and their perseverance. Considering what we've gone through this season, it's good to get a win."

Notes: In his first return against his ex-team before signing with Oakland in the offseason, LaMont Jordan was held to just 49 yards on 14 carries. ... Bollinger finished 14-of-26 for 119 yards. ... Former Raider tight end Doug Jolley caught two passes for 15 yards but dropped a TD. ... Defensive end Shaun Ellis missed the second half with a sore hamstring. ... Martin last missed a game against the Rams on October 11, 1998 due to a thigh injury. ... Backup QB Jay Fiedler underwent successful arthroscopic right shoulder surgery Friday and will miss the remainder of the season.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Rangers Are Predators In Nashville

Does anyone still think the Rangers aren't for real? Try telling that to the Predators (18-5-3) who the Blueshirts convincingly beat 5-1 at The Gaylord Entertainment Center Thursday night. The Predators entered play 13-2-0 at home and with just four losses in regulation all season. The Rangers apparently never got the message.

A night removed from going 0-for-nine on the power play in a 2-1 loss to Chicago, the Rangers took a page from the Blackhawks by killing off all eight Nashville man-advantages. Undisciplined in the first, they gave Nashville five chances to capitalize a man up including a one minute five-on-three in the game's opening two minutes. But despite those circumstances, the Ranger penalty killing unit shined- keeping Nashville's dangerous PP unit in check. The Preds had scored a PPG in a franchise best 11 straight before Thursday.

After killing off the first three, Jaromir Jagr took matters into his own hands, beating Tomas Vokoun on a backhand wraparound for his 22nd goal of the season at 12:31- snapping a five-game goal drought.

Shorthanded again, a key play by Jed Ortmeyer helped spark the club. With Ortmeyer hobbled due to an earlier blocked shot, he got in the path of a Marek Zidlicky one-timer to help kill another penalty. The inspirational effort summed up the league's number two ranked PK.

When Petr Prucha stepped out of the box after the Rangers' fifth successive kill, Jagr sprung him for a breakaway. On fire lately, Petr The Great deked Vokoun to the backhand, giving the Rangers a two-goal lead with 31 seconds left in the period. It extended Prucha's goalscoring streak to four (6 in last 4). He wasn't done- adding his 12th tally in the second to rank fourth among rookies (Ovechkin-17, Crosby-13, Svatos-13). Unfortunately for Nashville, Vokoun's night was over due to a right knee sprain.

With backup Chris Mason in, it didn't take long for the Rangers to blow it open. Off a dominant shift by Jagr, he setup Steve Rucchin on the doorstep 2:11 in. It was Rucchin's first goal since November 12th. Coincidentally, he scored twice in that 6-1 win at Pittsburgh. After Prucha one-timed a Michael Nylander feed past Mason, Rucchin had another two-goal game on a redirect of a Marek Malik shot to put the Rangers up 5-0.

With Henrik Lundqvist solid in net making 30 saves, including a highlight reel glove stop of a Paul Kariya shot with Nashville down 5-1 in the third, the Rangers cruised to their eighth win in 10 (8-1-1).

Notes: To sum up how bad the night was for Nashville, they also lost center David Legwand to a left leg injury in the second. His leg accidentally collided with Blair Betts during a power play. Legwand was helped off the ice and on crutches after the game. ... Center Martin Straka left the game in the third due to a cut. ... With a goal and two assists, Jagr retook the NHL scoring lead (22-24-46). ... Rangers (19-8-4) conclude their three-game trip at St. Louis (5-17-3) Saturday.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Hawks Edge Rangers In OT

In the first of a three-game road trip over four days, the Rangers fell to Chicago (11-14-2) 2-1 in overtime Wednesday night at the United Center. It was their second defeat in three games.

Nikolai Khabibulin's 30 saves along with the Blackhawks' special teams were the difference. After failing to take advantage of nine power plays due to aggressive Chicago penalty killing, the Rangers had several chances late in regulation to win the game. But in a period which they outshot the Hawks 15-5, The Bulin Wall stoned them. Having foiled them all night, Khabibulin denied Michal Rozsival's stuff in attempt and shut the door on Blair Betts' wraparound with under five minutes left.

The Hawks just missed on two chances with under a minute to go in regulation. Rene Bourque fired wide from the right circle. Kyle Calder then rang a shot off the crossbar to send the game to OT.

When Martin Rucinsky accidentally high sticked Mark Bell in the first minute, it gave Chicago a four-on-three power play which decided the outcome. Having failed on four previous ones, this time the Blackhawks capitalized when Tyler Arnason's shot from the right circle trickled thru Henrik Lundqvist to give them a 2-1 victory. After Betts and Tom Poti missed shorthanded, Chicago came the other way and won a battle against the boards. With both Betts and Jason Strudwick failing to win the puck from Brent Seabrook, he got it to Arnason who walked in and beat Lundqvist for the winner.

In a low shooting first in which Chicago held a 6-4 advantage, the Rangers misfired on two power plays. The closest they came was a Steve Rucchin backhand off the right post. It was the second post hit in the period. Two minutes in, Martin Straka hit the same post.

Despite keeping the Hawks in check most of the first, Lundqvist made the best save when he robbed ex-Flyer Patrick Sharp on the doorstep with 1:05 left.

The Blueshirts continued to fail on the power play in the second. With a full two minute five-on-three, they mustered just one harmless Rucinsky shot before his hooking minor 45 seconds later ended the big chance.

Not surprisingly, the only goal they scored came at even strength when red hot rookie Petr Prucha scored his 10th on a quick wrister in the slot to give them a 1-0 lead at 8:53. But it was shortlived as the Hawks came right back 18 seconds later when former Ranger Matt Barnaby setup Jaroslav Spacek to finish a three-on-two.

The Rangers had two breakaways afterwards but neither Tom Poti nor Ryan Hollweg had what it took to beat Khabibulin.

Making his fifth consecutive start, Lundqvist stopped 17 of 19 shots. After missing the last four games due to a bruised ankle, Kevin Weekes returned as the backup and could get a start in either Nashville or St. Louis.

Notes: Tom Poti returned from a groin injury after missing three games. He replaced Maxim Kondratiev on the blueline. ... Coach Tom Renney scratched forwards Marcel Hossa and Ville Nieminen in favor of Ryan Hollweg and Colton Orr. Hollweg returned from a bad eye and Orr played his second game for the Rangers. ... Rangers (18-8-4) continue their trip at Nashville (18-4-3) tonight.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Petr The Great Gives Rangers Wild Victory

With all the attention on talented rookies Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, Petr Prucha has quietly made an impact for the Rangers. Just call him Petr The Great. In Monday night's 3-1 triumph over Minnesota (10-12-4) at The Garden, Prucha's two power play goals proved to be the difference.

The 23-year-old Czech who was signed before the season now ranks second on the team with nine goals- second to Jaromir Jagr- who shares an apartment with Prucha to help him adjust to North America. So far, it's paying dividends for the Blueshirts, who ran their MSG winstreak to five and rebounded from a blowout loss to the Caps.

With Martin Rucinsky back from a sore knee, Coach Tom Renney juggled his lines putting Rucinsky with Martin Straka and Jaromir Jagr while moving Michael Nylander down to center Ville Nieminen and Marcel Hossa. Renney also shifted Dominic Moore to left wing on a line with Steve Rucchin and Jed Ortmeyer. Only Petr Prucha, Blair Betts and Jason Ward stayed intact.

The changes worked as Rucinsky assisted on all three Ranger goals while Jagr's line had a strong game. Jagr notched two assists to tie Ottawa's Jason Spezza for the league lead with 43 points.

On a power play, Prucha tallied when he rebounded a Jagr shot and backhanded it past Dwayne Roloson 4:00 in for a 1-0 lead.

After almost going ahead two, Henrik Lundqvist bailed them out on two Wild shorthanded chances. Back in net after being pulled Saturday for the first time in his NHL career, Lundqvist was strong in making 22 saves. First, he stopped Marc Chouinard from in close. Minutes later, he slid across to deny Pascal Dupuis to keep the Rangers in front as the period closed.

In the second, Rucinsky nearly made it 2-0 but Roloson robbed him. The Minnesota netminder had a strong game, finishing with 37 saves. His clutch stops allowed his team to draw even with less than 30 seconds left in the stanza. When Dupuis one-timed home an Alexandre Daigle pass on a delayed penalty, the game was tied heading to the third.

But a determined Ranger squad took control in the final period, outshooting Minnesota 19-4. Owning much of the play, they tested Roloson often but were foiled- including denials on Rucinsky, Straka and Betts. Finally rewarded with their sixth man-advantage due to hard work from the Jagr line, Prucha worked even harder to score the winner. Off a feed from Straka, Prucha rebounded his own shot and batted it just over Roloson to make it 2-1 with 8:29 left. It was Prucha's sixth PP tally and first two-goal game of his NHL career.

When Straka scored into an open net with 19 seconds remaining, it gave the Rangers their seventh win in eight.

Notes: Tom Poti (groin) missed his third consecutive game while Ryan Hollweg (eye) sat out his second straight. ... Rucinsky took the place of Colton Orr. ... Kevin Weekes (ankle) missed his fourth game in a row. ... Lundqvist improved to 8-1-1 at MSG. ... Rangers (18-8-3) travel to Chicago (10-14-2) Wednesday for the first of a four-day three-game road trip with stops at Nashville and St. Louis.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ovechkin Puts End To Ranger Streak

Entering play, Capitals rookie Alexander Ovechkin hadn't scored in seven games. That changed in Saturday's 5-1 win over the Rangers at The MCI Center- snapping Washington's five-game losing streak. It also halted the Rangers' six-game win streak, who came crashing back to reality.

The 20-year-old Ovechkin was brilliant in scoring his rookie-leading 16th goal and setting up three others. With the Blueshirts not sharp, the talented former 2004 number one overall pick took advantage of a careless Ville Nieminen turnover to put the Caps ahead 1-0 12:11 into the contest. It was a hint of what was to come.

Despite outshooting Washington 10-9, the best chance New York had came shorthanded when Olie Kolzig shut the door on Blair Betts to keep his team ahead. When Dainius Zubrus took a pass from Ovechkin and beat Henrik Lundqvist from a sharp angle 4:12 later, it gave Washington a two-goal lead after one.

Skating without Martin Rucinsky- who sat out after not feeling comfortable in his return the other night- the Rangers got little done offensively the first half of the game. They also missed the energy of Ryan Hollweg, who missed the game with a facial contusion. Recently claimed Colton Orr skated in Hollweg's place to make his Ranger debut.

Things continued to go badly when Ovechkin went around Marek Malik, drawing three Rangers before setting up a wide open Steve Eminger for the Caps' third goal at 8:01 of the second.

Down three, New York tried to mount a comeback but were denied by Kolzig. Shutdown much of the night, the top line of Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander and Martin Straka generated their best shift of the game but Kolzig turned away Nylander and Jagr. He also stopped Jed Ortmeyer on the next shift.

With Washington on a late power play, Oveckin took matters into his own hands to put it out of reach. On a delayed penalty to Michal Rozsival which would have given his team a two-man advantage, he skated thru a maze of Ranger penalty killers to setup Jeff Halpern on the doorstep to make it 4-0 with 2:28 left in the second.

Off another Ranger turnover, Matt Pettinger made it 5-0 from the far left wing early in the third on a shaky Lundqvist. The rookie netminder was later replaced by former 2003 sixth round pick Chris Holt. Holt turned away both shots he faced in 10 minutes of work.

Having not been shutout all season, New York got a late five-on-three power play goal from Petr Prucha with less than two minutes remaining.

Kolzig finished with 37 saves while Lundqvist tied his season high of five allowed on just 21 shots before being pulled.

Notes: Tom Poti (groin) missed his second game in a row but is close to returning. ... Kevin Weekes skated in practice and might return Monday. ... Caps (9-15-2) improved to 7-1-2 in their last 10 home games against the Rangers. ... The loss was the first for New York since an identical 5-1 loss to Carolina November 17. ... Rangers (17-8-3) return home Monday to face Minnesota (10-11-4) before embarking on a four-day three-game road trip with stops at Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lundqvist Turns Pens Away

After a four day break, the Rangers returned to their winning ways- defeating the Penguins (7-13-6) 2-1 Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. It was their sixth straight win, pushing them 10 games over .500.

Despite facing a division rival which started the day 15 points behind them, it didn't come easy for the Rangers. They needed every one of first year Swedish sensation Henrik Lundqvist's 35 saves to improve to 9-2-2 at MSG. In particular, Lundqvist was really strong in the third period- stopping all 10 shots he faced including a Mark Recchi redirect in the final minute to seal the victory. He also stoned Erik Christensen and John LeClair minutes prior.

Coming out sharp in the early going, the Blueshirts jumped out in front on rookie defenseman Maxim Kondratiev's first NHL career goal. With one second left on a Dick Tarnstrom double minor, Kondratiev's shot from the left wing deflected off a Pen past Marc-Andre Fleury at 7:52. Returning from a sore back, Steve Rucchin tallied an assist along with Jaromir Jagr on the goal.

With the help of Lundqvist (13 first period saves), New York killed two Pittsburgh power plays to stay ahead after one.

However, early in the second, the Penguins tied it on Ryan Whitney's first career NHL goal. Unable to get the puck out of their end, the Rangers allowed Recchi to work the puck to an isolated Whitney in the slot, who beat Lundqvist 1:54 in to make it 1-1.

But despite a barrage of shots from Pittsburgh to take the lead, Lundqvist denied them. Eventually turning the tide, New York setup the winning goal off a faceoff win less than five minutes later. When Michael Nylander worked the puck back to Michal Rozsival, Rozsival drew two Pens and dished off to Saturday's shootout hero Marek Malik. This time he didn't need to pull a rabit out of the hat to score his first goal of the season in regulation. Malik fired the puck inside the crossbar at 6:31.

Any chance they had to go up two was thwarted by Fleury, who stopped 30 of 32 shots.

Notes: Pens forward Ziggy Palffy left the game in the second with a groin injury. ... After missing 14 games with a knee sprain, Martin Rucinsky returned. ... Tom Poti (groin) and Jed Ortmeyer (family death) did not play. ... Kondratiev's PPG snapped a four-game drought for Rangers (0-18). ... Rangers (17-7-3) travel to the nation's capital to face Washington (8-15-2) in a rematch of last Saturday's 15 round epic shootout.