Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The King Of Shootouts Gets Blueshirts Victory

The King was back in net for the Rangers. And that was definitely a good thing as Henrik Lundqvist continued his shootout dominance by stopping all three shooters in a 4-3 shootout victory over the Panthers at Bank Atlantic Center Wednesday night. It was the Blueshirts' third win in four and improved them to 3-0-1 during that stretch with just a home OT loss to Buffalo.

After sitting out the last three in favor of backup Kevin Weekes, Lundqvist was sharp enough to spark his team to a much needed win in the first of a three-game four-day Southeast trip with stops in Atlanta Friday and Washington Saturday.

In a game he made 37 saves just to get his team to its third shootout of the season, the 24 year-old Swedish gold medallist was the difference once again in improving the club to a perfect 3-0 under such instances. Forcing an Olli Jokinen miss while stoning Nathan Horton and Joe Nieuwendyk, Lundqvist made Michael Nylander's backhand deke stand up. In the three shootout victories, the King hasn't allowed a goal in 19 tries, including that memorable 13 round triumph over the Flyers back on October 7.

"I always feel pretty confident going into a shootout, but at the same time I know they (Panthers) have some good shooters," Lundqvist told the AP. "So I knew it would be a challenge."

"We really don't mind going into a shootout," added Rangers coach Tom Renney. "We feel like we have an advantage with our shooters."

It was all Rangers early as they took advantage of some undisciplined penalties by Florida to connect twice on the power play thanks to Martin Straka. With Martin Gelinas off for hooking, it took Straka just 10 seconds to blast a shot from the left point past Ed Belfour to give them the lead 3:13 into the contest. Brendan Shanahan and Nylander picked up assists.

Though they failed to capitalize on three more power plays during a onesided first which saw them control play and outshoot Florida 11-6, another penalty would lead to Straka's second of the night only 2:07 into the second. Off a faceoff win from Nylander with help from Shanahan, the left wing stepped into another point shot and beat Belfour inside the post to put New York comfortably in front by two.

"I was in good position to get off decent shots (on both goals) and it just worked out tonight," Straka said. "It's nice to get that early lead, but we have to maintain it throughout the game."

Continuing to dictate play, they drew two more penalties including a double minor on Chris Gratton. But instead of seizing complete control, a Straka hooking penalty led to a four-on-four goal by Ruslan Salei at 11:13 which cut it to one. With the Panthers back in it, they drew even 6:05 later when Horton rebounded home a Gary Roberts deflection on the power play. Suddenly, the Panthers came at the Rangers in waves outshooting them 12-1 over the final few minutes. Despite being outshot 18-7 for the period, New York escaped further damage thanks to Lundqvist (16 saves).

Even on the scoreboard, the Blueshirts once again got an early goal in the third thanks to a brilliant individual effort from Blair Betts. The checking pivot took the puck from his own blueline and then went around Florida defenseman Mike Van Ryn flipping a backhand on net and putting home his own rebound for his third unassisted at 1:34. It was the second highlight reel goal he scored in the last three. Betts also pulled off a similar play at Anaheim when he went coast to coast undressing Scott Niedermayer before beating Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

But Florida responded by tying it when defenseman Jay Bouwmeester put home his third with 11:07 remaining to force OT. In it, both teams played an unconventional three-on-three before the Rangers killed off a brief Panthers man-advantage to force the shootout leading to Lundqvist's theatrics.

Notes: Straka has three goals and four points in his last three. After starting the season with three goals in his first eight, he's got six in his last seven. ... Belfour finished with 27 saves. ... In an oddity, the Rangers' 4-3 shootout win was almost a year to the date of last year's identical margin last November 9th in the same building. "Yeah, I was thinking about that during the shootout, you know, maybe it's in the stars again," Renney pointed out. "We were able to prevail and win, so, yeah, history does repeat itself."

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