The Rangers Game Log

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Back From the Brink

- OK, I guess that’s a bit too dramatic; it’s not like they were facing elimination, nor even a significant blow to making the playoffs. But I still feel as if they came back from the brink of something with their dramatic 5-4 shootout win against the Sabres. The Rangers have lost 20 games in regulation this year; but for each of those, even including the four that occurred during the recent six game winless streak, I had some kind of rationalization or excuse – they didn’t get the bounces, they were tired, they ran into a hot goalie, or they were plain just due to lose.

But to me, this one would have been tough to take, and would have shunted them closer to the pack of ordinary teams fighting for playoff spots. They needed to follow through from the two points earned in Florida, to show that they were indeed on the way back to something resembling pre-Olympic form. They were facing a slumping Sabres’ club that was ready to be had. A loss would have made a finish higher than the 5th seed increasingly unlikely and left them with just three wins in 12 games. And worst of all, down 4-2 after two periods, I was starting to think that perhaps the magic of this season had run its course. There’s little short of a ten game losing streak to close the season (unlikely with three games against the woeful Icelanders remaining) that could detract from the unexpected delights of this season, but I think we all are anticipating some playoff topping on the cake. And I was starting to have my doubts.

Instead, the Broadway Blueshirts reached back, and despite little jump left in Ranger legs towards the end of one of the most brutal schedule stretches I can ever recall, may have topped much of what has occurred in this amazing year. The bursts of energy are coming only in fits and starts, such as the fierce forechecking by the RMO – Rucchin, Moore and Ortmeyer – line that led to the second goal. They still spent far too much time pursuing opponents than controlling the puck. But this team hung in – you could see the desperation level rise after the Sabres’ 4th goal, as Colton Orr, playing with Betts and Ward, delivered his best shift as a Ranger.

And once again, as it should be, it was the team’s two stars that were able to lift them to victory. Jagr, in another brilliant performance, set up Sykora on the third goal with a deft one-touch pass, and virtually willed the puck past Ryan Miller from the side of the net to tie the game. On the subsequent five-on-three, he hit the inside of the post on the first shot of what seemed like batting practice, with Roszival lopping up the fat pitches. Though he couldn’t break through on that, or on the overtime power play, it all made for another memorable performance by a true superstar playing the hockey of his life. He was credited with nine shots on goal, but must have had at least that many blocked, deflected, or wide…possibly on the two abovementioned power plays alone!

Henrik Lundqvist replaced Weekes, who fought the puck all night, did a great imitation of a stone pyramid on the Sabre’s two wraparound goals, and failed to make a big save all night. Lundqvist made big stops at the end of regulation and overtime, and didn’t give Buffalo even a chance in the overtime. What a great moment after Afinogenov’s shot, when the crowd went silent waiting for the referee’s signal of no goal.

So two more games in this ridiculous stretch, and then a welcome four days off during which the Blueshirts will hopefully be able to recharge. If they can get two points before the break – a good possibility given Wednesday’s trip to Long Island – they should be in excellent shape for the final chapter to an amazing season which was brought back from the brink at the Garden last night.

2 Comments:

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