Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Rucchin Helps Rangers Past Pens

Steve Rucchin scored a shorthanded goal and setup another to help lift the Rangers past Pittsburgh (12-31-10) 3-1 at The Garden Wednesday night. It was the Pens' 13th loss in 14.

Coming off a tough 3-2 OT loss to the Flyers, the Blueshirts figured to fare better against a team they pounded 7-1 four days ago. But this time, a rested Pens club played more inspired while the Rangers struggled throughout. They made some sloppy turnovers and overpassed the puck while shying away from the physical department. As fortune would have it, Pittsburgh still couldn't take advantage.

On an early Pittsburgh power play, Rucchin scored the team's second shorthanded goal of the season unassisted at 4:05. While killing a Marcel Hossa hooking penalty, Rucchin intercepted a Sidney Crosby pass at the blueline and broke away. With two Penguins trailing, Rucchin deked Marc-Andre Fleury to the forehand and put home his 10th of the season for an early lead.

The Rangers would get several glorious chances to go up two goals but were way too fancy and watched Fleury stone them. On one such opportunity, Michael Nylander dropped a pass for Martin Straka, who shot with the Pens goalie down. But somehow, a sprawling Fleury got a piece of it and then Marek Malik missed over the net.

With Fleury keeping his team in it, the Pens were able to tie the game on a late power play goal thanks to Mark Recchi, who notched his 18th with just 10 seconds remaining in the first. Taking the puck from Fleury, Recchi carried through three Rangers and fired a wrist shot through Henrik Lundqvist. Afterwards, Jed Ortmeyer broke his stick in frustration at the bench.

The Rangers would retake the lead on a power play goal of their own halfway through the second. After a couple of key stops by Lundqvist which kept it tied, Jaromir Jagr drew a hooking call on Colby Armstrong. After coming close earlier, this time New York took advantage when in a similar theme from Saturday, ex-Pen Michal Rozsival connected for his fourth of the season. Sneaking in from the point, he one-timed a Straka feed past Fleury at 10:33. Playing in his 700th career game, Nylander added an assist. Out of Rozsival's four goals in '05-06, three have come against his former club.

After each team took turns killing penalties, the period came to an end with the Rangers still up 2-1.

In the third, the Pens pressed hard for the equalizer but were either turned aside by surprise starter Lundqvist or a goalie's best friend. The post. Expected to rest in favor of backup Kevin Weekes, Lundqvist instead made his seventh consecutive start. As usual, the unflappable 23-year-old Calder hopeful was sharp. Off a couple of brutal turnovers, Lundqvist kept his team ahead with clutch stops from in close on Michel Ouellet and a Recchi tip-in attempt. For the night, he finished with 24 saves, posting his 22nd win of the season. He also had some luck when Armstrong and Guillaume Lefebvre hit posts.

Not long after, Straka had a golden chance to put the Rangers up two. On a two-on-one, he waited before firing a wrist shot which Fleury snapped away with a quick glove. Fleury had 23 saves.

They finally put the Pens away on another power play. With two players in front, a Poti one-timer was redirected leading to a rebound. The play was made by Rucchin, who was voted the game's First Star. With Rucchin unable to finish due to a backcheck, the crafty pivot slipped a pass to Petr Sykora, who buried the chance past Fleury for his 11th of the season with 10:09 left.

Just how solid was Rucchin on this night. He dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 16 of 21. The Rangers had been struggling in that department since losing Blair Betts to an MCL sprain a month ago. Led by Rucchin, they went 38-20 against the Penguins.

They'll need more of that later tonight against the rival Islanders, who have suddenly won three straight. Fasten your seatbelts.

Notes: With his 22nd win this season, Lundqvist tied for third most by a Rangers rookie. Johnny Bower and Jim Henry share the franchise record with 29. ... Rangers were two-for-eight on the power play. ... Blueshirts are now 17-6-5 at MSG. ... Crosby played with the flu, finishing with four shots. ... New York is 5-1-1 in season series and improved their record against Atlantic Division foes to 12-3-5. ... Weekes is expected to make his first start Thursday at Nassau Coliseum since a 4-3 loss at Columbus January 16. ... Rangers (30-15-8, 68 points) meet Islanders (23-25-3, 49 points) for fifth time this season and first in 2006. They are 2-1-1 so far.

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