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.

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