Thursday, February 02, 2006

Rangers Storm Islanders 5-2

In a dominant effort against their archrivals, the Rangers stormed the Islanders 5-2 for their sixth win in their last eight at Nassau Coliseum Thursday night. Once again, Jaromir Jagr was the best player on the ice for either team. The league's leading scorer notched a goal and assist to help lead his club to their third win in five meetings (3-1-1) against the Isles this season. It could easily have been a lot more for Jagr, who controlled the tempo throughout.

More importantly, the Rangers stepped up with backup Kevin Weekes in net. Making his first start since a 4-3 loss at Columbus on January 16th, Weekes was much steadier in posting his first victory since December 10. Standing up more as he had practiced with goalie coach Benoit Allaire and more under control, Weekes made 23 saves in just his second start in 17 games.

While Weekes was solid, so too were his teammates. Playing inspired team defense, they made his life easier by blocking 25 shots. Just how sharp were they. In killing off two early Islander power plays, they didn't allow one shot. In fact, Weekes wasn't asked to make a save until 12 minutes had elapsed.

Like many Rangers-Islanders games, it also included an entertaining scrap between Colton Orr and Eric Godard. Dressed in place of Ville Nieminen, Orr held his own against the Isles' enforcer.

When Michael Nylander drew a penalty, the Blueshirts took advantage when Fedor Tyutin connected on the power play. Off a Jagr setup, a sprawling Rick DiPietro prevented Martin Straka from scoring from in close. But Straka followed up the play by finding his rebound and passing the puck between three Isles to a wide open Tyutin, who one-timed his sixth into a vacated net at 13:35 with DiPietro still down.

Continuing to dictate the play, on one shift the top unit of Jagr, Michael Nylander and Straka kept the Isles pinned in their own end for over a minute. They came close to scoring a couple of times but DiPietro stopped Jagr and Straka missed an open net.

When a hustling Petr Prucha drew a hooking call on Jason Blake late in the first, the Blueshirts once again made the Islanders pay the price. This time, Prucha outworked three Isles along the boards to keep a puck in. He then fed a pass to Tom Poti, who instead of shooting, passed to a wide open Steve Rucchin. Rucchin deflected the puck off the post and in with 32 seconds left for a two-goal lead. It was his second goal in two games.

A potential turning point came early in the second. With the Islanders starting to generate some chances off their cycle, Weekes made a key stop on Arron Asham. Then, Rucchin worked the puck out to Martin Rucinsky, who fired a harmless wrister from the left wing that fooled DiPietro. The puck trickled out of DiPietro's glove and took a funny hop into the net for Rucinsky's 13th to make it 3-0 at 2:16.

In complete control, New York increased it to four with a bit of history made. On their third power play, Michal Rozsival sprung Straka for a breakaway but as he attempted his shot, one-time Ranger Joel Bouchard hooked him down leading to a penalty shot. In the 34-year series, the Rangers had never scored against the Isles on a penalty shot. DiPietro was also a perfect four-for-four in his career. Those both changed when Straka beat the Islander netminder to the stickside for a four-goal cushion at 10:13.

Down four, the Islanders finally started playing more inspired and forced Weekes to make several tough saves to end the period. Continuing to work hard, they finally got back in the game when Mark Parrish potted a rebound past Weekes on a power play 3:14 into the third. While Parrish scored, Darius Kasparaitis wound up with an interference penalty pushing Jason Blake into Weekes.

Though the Rangers penalty killing unit did a good job denying the Isles, they continued to press by recovering pucks in the corners and getting more shots from the point. When Oleg Kvasha's shot was redirected by Parrish over Weekes' glove, suddenly it was 4-2 with 10:41 remaining.

It forced Ranger Coach Tom Renney to use a timeout to settle down his team. The timeout worked as he saw his team respond by cycling the puck effectively in the Islanders' zone. It started with another big shift from the Jagr line and continued with an impressive shift from the third line of Prucha, Jason Ward and Marcel Hossa. The second line of Rucinsky, Rucchin and Petr Sykora also got the puck in deep taking more time off.

Having finally regained the momentum, they put it away with a textbook play which started from behind their net. In as team oriented a goal as you'll see, all five Rangers touched the puck before Straka setup Jagr for his 34th goal with 3:09 left to put an exclamation point on the contest. Working the puck up the ice, Nylander drew a couple of Islanders and fed Straka on the left wing. When two Isles converged on him, Straka quickly thredded the needle to Jagr for a perfect one-timer over DiPietro.

DiPietro turned aside 22 of 27.

Notes: Islanders had their three-game winning streak snapped. ... With 70 points in their first 54 games, the Rangers eclipsed their '03-04 total of 69. ... Islanders defenseman Alexei Zhitnik sat out with a sprained ankle suffered against Washington Tuesday. ... In a nice tribute during a break, both benches along with the fans gave a standing ovation to Islander Kevin Colley, who underwent four hours of surgery for a broken neck suffered Tuesday when he crashed into the boards. He will undergo a second procedure next week. ... Straka is three-for-seven on penalty shots. ... With the win and a Buffalo 4-2 win over Philadelphia, the Rangers tied the Flyers for first in the Atlantic. Rangers (31-15-8, 70 points) travel to Philadelphia (31-14-8, 70 points) Saturday (5 PM).

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