Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lundqvist Up To Challenge Against Devils

First year NHL goalies aren't supposed to be this good. Apparently, someone forgot to tell Ranger rookie Henrik Lundqvist. In making 31 saves in a crucial 3-1 win over the Devils (25-19-5), the man known as Henke back home in Sweden was the difference in making it three in a row for the Rangers while snapping the Devils' nine-game win streak Sunday night at The Garden.

Lundqvist made some tough saves in outdueling three-time Stanley Cup winner Martin Brodeur. Both were superior in net but Lundqvist was just a little better on this night. In solid form as well, Brodeur finished with 30 saves.

Staked to a 2-0 lead on goals by Petr Prucha and Michael Nylander, Lundqvist was forced to come up with a spectacular save late in the second when Petr Sykora and Jed Ortmeyer were penalized 24 seconds apart giving the Devils a crucial two-man advantage. Having already bailed out his teammates in the first during a Darius Kasparaitis elbowing major, the 23-year-old Swede robbed Patrik Elias with one second left. Elias went around Marek Malik and fired a wrist shot labeled for the top corner. But Lundqvist got a piece of it with his glove to preserve the two-goal lead into the third.

In the third however, the Devils pressed and finally got one back when Scott Gomez finished off a nice passing play with Elias to cut the lead in half with 13:24 left. Off a give-and-go with Elias, a streaking Gomez took a pass and fired a wrist shot past Lundqvist inside the far post for his 18th of the season.

With a more determined New Jersey team coming at them in waves, Lundqvist and the depleted Ranger D due to no Kasparaitis had to be on their toes. Playing an in your face grind it out style the Devils generated some chances but couldn't tie it. Lundqvist was equal to the challenge, including key stops on Sergei Brylin, Jay Pandolfo and John Madden.

While Lundqvist held the forte, his teammates picked it up down the stretch to hold the Devils without a shot the final 7:32. Everytime the Devils got the puck in deep and were in position to tie it, a Ranger sacrificed his body to prevent shots from getting through. If they didn't block a shot, they took away the puck much like Michal Rozsival did when a streaking Elias cut to the middle and tried to drag the puck for a big chance with over six minutes remaining.

But without the yeoman-like effort of the HMO line of Ryan Hollweg, Dominic Moore and Jed Ortmeyer, the Blueshirts probably don't hold on let alone get the all important fourth win of the first six against the Devils. On one shift with over four minutes left, Hollweg, Moore and Ortmeyer pinned the Devils in their zone for about 45 seconds, resulting in cheers from appreciative fans.

Hollweg, who in the second was pummeled by Cam Janssen in a one-sided scrap, kept coming. His grit along the boards almost resulted in a third goal. For his hard work, he even got 20 seconds of power play time which also almost turned into a goal. That's the kind of dedication the Rangers showed against a red hot rival in a four point swing game which moved them to fourth overall in the East and put them eight points ahead of New Jersey.

With the Devils pulling Brodeur for an extra attacker, they continued to keep the puck in due to the hustle of Brian Rafalski. But anytime they moved the puck, they were challenged by Rangers. In a final sequence of Devils' desperation, three more shots were blocked. Finally, Martin Rucinsky took the puck away at center ice and got it to another gritty player Jason Ward, who passed to Moore. Moore's empty net goal sealed it with 11 seconds left. Very fitting indeed that the game's Number Three Star broke the Devils' backs. An underrated player, who just plays his role.

That's the difference with these Rangers.

Notes: Going for a big hit, Kasparaitis knocked Grant Marshall out of the game with an elbow in the first. Marshall did not return. Kasparaitis could be subject to suspension for his elbowing major. ... In what's becoming an increasing problem, the Rangers were destroyed in the faceoff circle by the Devils 37-16. They lost their best center on draws Blair Betts to a sprained left MCL a couple of weeks ago against Florida. Betts ranked 14th in faceoff percentage winning 55.7 percent. The next highest Ranger is Steve Rucchin at 47.1 percent. ... Fourth in the East, Rangers (28-14-7, 63 points) host fifth overall Buffalo (29-15-3, 61 points) Tuesday night in another four-point swing game.

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