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.

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