The Rangers Game Log

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Four More Hills To Climb, Baby!

- The chant of “Let’s Go Rangers!” reverberated throughout the staircases and hallways leaving the Garden last night, and when’s the last time you heard that? The smattering of orange-clad fans from Philly were, for the first time this season, regretting their decision to invade enemy territory.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way – the power play was 0-7, failing to pad a 1-0 lead earned in a nearly perfect first period for the home team – they allowed only three feeble shots on Kevin Weekes – and then failing to take back control of the game when it briefly got away in the second. And Jagr’s shooting hand went cold, as he failed to connect on an incredible 12 shots, at least five of them from point-blank range, including the first period glove save that had him grinning in disbelief.

But the four desperately needed days of rest were quite apparent, and the home team had jump in their legs that we haven’t seen on a sustained basis since the Olympic break. And make no mistake about it - though the top line accounted for both scores, this game was won by what we’ve come to know during this amazing season as Rangers hockey – it was the foot soldiers on the 3rd and 4th lines who clearly benefited the most from the break, and they provided the energy that stirred the crowd, and in turn, the team. They were on top of the Flyers all night at both ends of the ice, leading a mostly solid defensive effort that limited the Flyers to 23 mostly harmless shots, cycling effectively in the offensive zone, and even generating some solid scoring opportunities. Jason Ward, in particular, was a dynamo, delivering four hits, and clearly deserved to be one of the three stars. Ryan Hollweg stood toe-to-toe with Mike Richards minutes after Denis Gauthier rocked Martin Straka’s world with a legal but brutal shoulder hit.

All three defense pairings were solid, with Fyodor Tyutin playing the role of Darius Kasparaitis, delivering six hits including a thundering open-ice check on Brian Savage in the third. The pairing of Tom Poti and Sandis Ozolinsh – yeah, that one – actually received more ice time than Roszival-Malik. Ozolinsh played a total of 28:38, and man, can he pass the puck (though we certainly would have been screaming “Why the $^#& didn’t he shoot!?” if Nylander hadn’t converted his first period goal.

The team did a great job clearing all but one of the ample rebounds left by Weekes, whose lack of confidence could especially be seen in the tentative way he handled the puck. But he somehow managed to stop Jeff Carter’s backhand in the third – he called it a “Hasek save,” and was solid on Gagne’s shorthanded breakaway, and in closing up the five hole on Forsberg’s shootout attempt. I saw fans that were earlier giving him the derisive cheer on saves – not really helpful considering the situation - standing and screaming his name. I must say that although I still felt supremely confident going into the third despite trailing 2-1, I was prepared for the worst in the shootout. I was telling myself that I wouldn’t let it ruin the good things the Blueshirts did throughout the night. And you can’t tell me you felt good after Gagne’s easy score and with Nylander about to go into his slow motion routine! But you gotta love the way Sykora threw Esche a changeup, ripping the forehand wrister top shelf. I’ve read that Handzus’ final attempt hit the crossbar, but who cares, really!? A three point lead with seven to go; two of those against the pitiful Islanders, who have quit on their coach, and one each with Boston and Pittsburgh.

- Esche’s play certainly deserves a mention. Last week he told the Philly press that he saw the handwriting on the wall and was resigned to Antero Nittymaki starting in the playoffs. If Ken Hitchcock was indeed leaning that way, he may want to reconsider. Esche was spectacular throughout, stopping 38 of 40 shots, including those dozen to Jagr, who had scored nine goals on him in the previous meetings. Esche stopped 21 of 22 in the third period and overtime, many of the subtle spectacular variety, including one on Jagr in which he shut down the five hole that #68 ticketed his drive towards. I read in the Philly papers that the Flyers felt they played a great game, but if not for their goalie, the score would not have been close.

- Tom Renney singled out Straka after the game, not only for this game, but for his consistent work throughout the season. Of all the new Rangers this year, I have to say that he’s been the most positive surprise to me. He’s an unrestricted free agent after the season, and with young players waiting in the wings, who knows what his future prospects are here, but despite all the missed scoring opportunities, it’s fair to say that the team wouldn’t be where it is without him. With 72 points, he’s third on the team in scoring, and as Renney pointed out, his backchecking is superb.

- According to a couple of unofficial lists I’ve seen, the other unrestricted free agents on the team are: Steve Rucchin, Tom Poti, Martin Rucinsky, Jason Strudwick, and Petr Sykora. Oh yeah, and Dale Purinton.

9 Comments:

  • At 11:49 AM, Anonymous throwaway said…

    Well, Alan, at last it is safe for us to talk about the Rangers making the playoffs!

    Indeed, last night's game had a playoff feel to it. I thought Philly played a smart, patient game, and midway through things were pretty quiet where I was sitting. But as you noted, the Rangers continued to skate hard, and immediately following one of their successful PK's, they scored the equalizer. That set the stage for Weekes' heroics, and the crowd reaction that followed was inspiring. I'll be stubborn, here, and continue to maintain my opposition to having a shootout decide a game like this, but in the end it was a truly joyous night at the Garden.

     
  • At 2:25 PM, Blogger alan said…

    You don't have to preach to me about shootouts; I've been opposed all along. Though they sure are fun when we win.

    The ovations for Weekes reminded me of the one he got in a prior game against Philly in which he robbed Forsberg with a spectacular glove save in the third (kinda like the ones Esche made on Jagr); and brought back memories of the goal he gave up off the opening faceoff in overtime. Glad there was a happier ending this time.

     
  • At 5:49 PM, Anonymous throwaway said…

    A happier ending indeed. I'll tell you, I'm a huge Met fan, and then there's the matter of that big race in May -- and to date, I haven't given either of them even close to the amount of attention that I usually do by this time of year. This Ranger-ride is just incredible.

     
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