Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Rangers Pay Back Senators

The last time the Rangers played the Senators, Ottawa taught them a lesson by routing New York 6-2 on December 26 in Kanata, Ontario. Back then, 14 points separated the teams. But after the Blueshirts turned the tables on Ottawa with an impressive 5-1 win at The Garden Wednesday night, the Atlantic division leaders closed to within three points of the Sens for second in the East.

In the wake of losing second leading goalscorer Petr Prucha to a right knee MCL strain which will sideline the rookie three to four weeks, the Rangers responded by dominating Ottawa to post their first victory against them since November 23, 2003.

In all facets, the Rangers were superior. They were a perfect eight-for-eight killing penalties to shutdown the third ranked power play. It was a combination of clutch netminding from Swedish sensation Henrik Lundqvist and sheer hustle from a PK which featured gritty forwards Jed Ortmeyer, Dominic Moore and Jason Ward.

In a possible Olympic gold medal preview, both Lundqvist and Dominik Hasek were sharp in a fastpaced first period. Thirty seconds in, Hasek denied Michal Rozsival twice to keep it scoreless. A few minutes later, Lundqvist was called on to help thwart a couple of early Ottawa power plays. His best stops came on a Jason Spezza wrist shot and a Zdeno Chara one-timer. Lundqvist stopped all 16 Ottawa shots while Hasek was 10-for-10.

After killing off a second penalty, they nearly went ahead on a Michael Nylander shot but Hasek slid across and Tom Poti overskated the rebound. The Senators were awarded a third consecutive power play on a questionable high sticking call on Poti. But once again, Lundqvist was equal to the task including denials on Wade Redden and Mike Fisher.

The Rangers finally drew two power plays 23 seconds apart in the final minute. Though they didn't score right away, they made Ottawa pay 49 seconds into the second when Jaromir Jagr connected on the five-on-three. Taking a Martin Rucinsky feed, Jagr blasted the puck past Hasek's glove inside the crossbar for his 36th of the season. It tied him for the league lead with Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk.

After killing a Fedor Tyutin penalty, they doubled their lead. Catching a tired Sens power play unit before they could change, Nylander centered a pass which deflected back to Marek Malik, who one-timed the puck off a Senator stick by a surprised Hasek at 6:19.

The Sens came into the contest leading the league in shorthanded goals. In fact, Daniel Alfredsson entered with five- three more than the entire Ranger roster. None of that mattered when New York notched its third thanks to Ward. With Ottawa looking to make it a game, he chipped a puck past Jason Spezza, leading to a three-on-one. Working a give-and-go with Ville Nieminen, Ward's one-timer from the slot beat Hasek to make it 3-0 at 14:06. It was Ward's second shorthanded tally of the season.

Chris Kelly got one back 3:50 later after Ottawa's sixth power play expired, backhanding a rebound over Lundqvist.

But in the third, the Rangers made a strong statement by not allowing a Senator shot until 2:16 was left. After keeping any Ottawa shots from getting through during a Nieminen penalty, a textbook play which started from their own goal resulted in breaking it open. A diving Rozsival broke up a centering feed leading to an odd-man rush. Working their magic, Jagr, Martin Straka and Nylander combined for a pretty tic-tac-toe goal which put the Rangers ahead 4-1 with 12:04 left. Nylander buried his 14th off a nifty Straka pass.

Firmly in control, the Blueshirts didn't give the Sens many chances. And anytime they got in the zone, a Ranger was in the right place to break up a rush. When Petr Sykora banked in his 13th off a Senator for a four-goal cushion with 6:09 remaining, all went right for the Rangers on this night.

Lundqvist put an exclamation point on the victory by making a glove save on a two-on-one Ottawa shorthanded rush for their first shot. The Team Sweden Olympic starter finished with 24 saves compared to only 18 for Czech Republic counterpart Hasek.

It was that kind of game for the Rangers, who will take a perfect 4-0 February record into a home-and-home against Toronto Friday and Saturday before the Olympic Break.

Notes: After a scary collision on an early shift, Rucinsky and Sykora returned to finish the game. ... With a goal and two assists, Jagr increased his league-leading total to 83 points (36-47-83). With 26 games remaining, the 83 points are his most since netting 121 (52-69-121) in '00-01. Jagr's goal tied him with Mike Bossy for 16th place on the NHL's all-time scoring list with 573. ... The Rangers paid tribute to longtime security representative Dennis "Chief" Ryan before the game. Ryan passed away Monday. ... With an assist, Steve Rucchin has five points (2-3-5) in the last four games. ... Rangers (33-15-8, 74 pts) host Maple Leafs (27-23-5, 59 pts) Friday night.

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