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.


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