Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Lightning Strikes Twice For Rangers

Call it some bad luck. For the second consecutive game, the Rangers fell in overtime- this time dropping a crucial extra point to seventh place Tampa Bay (21-17-3) in a 1-0 loss at The Garden Tuesday night. The two points gave the Lightning 45, moving them within five of the Rangers' 50.

On a night in which they were the better team five-on-five against a tired opponent skating in the second of a back-to-back, the Blueshirts couldn't beat Tampa goalie John Grahame. Despite controlling much of the play and outshooting the Lightning 36-20 for the match, none of that mattered when Vinny Prospal escaped the check of rookie Petr Prucha behind the net to stuff in his own wraparound past a surprised Henrik Lundqvist to win the game with 1:13 left before a shootout.

It was the Rangers' third home loss after regulation this season. The previous two came way back in October to Montreal and the Islanders.

Coming off a lackluster effort which produced a 4-3 OT loss at Pittsburgh New Year's Eve, the Rangers played with more purpose at even-strength. But despite an advantage in chances, they just couldn't finish. That inability would haunt them.

After an uneventful first period which saw New York hold a 10-7 shots advantage, they started dictating the play in the second. Particularly on a couple of shifts by the top line of Martin Straka, Michael Nylander and Jaromir Jagr. With the game still scoreless, the trio cycled the puck effectively and generated a few good chances to break the tie. But Grahame denied a pinching Marek Malik from the slot and Nylander just missed finishing a backdoor feed with an open net.

In a period which his team outshot Tampa 11-5, Lundqvist still had to be sharp late with some tough stops on Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis to keep the game knotted into the third.

After killing off the remainder of a Fedor Tyutin interference penalty, the Rangers continued to press for the go-ahead goal. With Coach Tom Renney reuniting the HMO line of Ryan Hollweg, Dominic Moore and Jed Ortmeyer and Steve Rucchin back from a bruised foot to center the second line of Martin Rucinsky and Prucha, New York continued to have the better of the play. They outshot Tampa 12-3 in the third.

A smart play by Jason Ward resulted in a late power play. Chipping the puck up the boards to a streaking Ville Nieminen up the left wing, Nieminen broke in on Grahame. But after being hooked by Dan Boyle, Nieminen was stopped.

Unfortunately, the Rangers power play couldn't muster even a shot. A desperate Lightning shorthanded unit which featured Richards and St. Louis were quicker the the puck and prevented the Blueshirts from doing anything. In a game where they played well, the power play was a sight for sore eyes, finishing 0-for-6.

The overtime featured some exciting back-and-forth action which had the fans out of their seats. The best chance for the Rangers was created by an effective Nieminen, who had maybe his best game. With his team changing, Nieminen was still able to get a shot on net one-on-three and recover the puck. While he retrieved it, he sent a no-look behind the back pass to a pinching Tyutin, whose right point one-time blast just missed. It summed up a frustrating night for the home club.

Making his first start in three games, Grahame was splendid in stopping all 36 Ranger shots for his second shutout of the season. In his second consecutive start, Lundqvist was solid in turning aside 19 of 20 shots. Unfortunately, Prospal's final one which eluded him at the far post was enough to come up short.

Notes: Tom Poti returned after missing Saturday's game with the flu. Hartford recall Thomas Pock was scratched along with forwards Marcel Hossa and Colton Orr. ... In the first of a five-game homestand, every Ranger played at least 10:00 thanks to better discipline (four penalties). ... The win was Tampa Bay's second straight by one goal. Top goalscorer Fredrik Modin did not play. ... Rangers (22-12-6) look to bounceback Thursday against the Atlantic-leading Flyers (25-8-6). The Flyers lead the Rangers by six points heading into their second meeting of eight this season. New York took the season opener 5-3 back on October 5th.

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