Avery penalty shot sparks Rangers

NEW YORK – After playing a nondescript and lethargic
first period, the Rangers needed a spark to ignite them, trailing 2-0 to the
Tampa Bay Lightning (26-24-11), two points and two slots ahead of the Rangers in the race
for the final playoff spot in the East.

Who better to deliver that spark than Sean Avery, who
seems to be in the middle of everything? He broke in shorthanded on Mike Smith
but got dragged down by Kurtis Foster at 1:40 of the second, drawing a penalty
shot. Avery patiently waited for Smith to make the first move, and when he did,
the Canadian winger calmly roofed it over his head.

Fifteen seconds later,
Henrik Lundqvist made a fantastic glove save on Nate Thompson, diving across
the crease to make one of his best saves of the season, and the game’s momentum
was turned.

“Aves’ shot is a great move, and a big goal for us,”
Lundqvist said after making 27 saves and earning second-star status. “I
challenged him in practice, told him he would never do that move in a game, but
he did today. It was awesome.”

“Aves is definitely a guy who people underestimate for
how good he is with the puck,” said Erik Christensen. “We see it in practice
every day and that move, I’ve seen him do it a few times on Henrik. It was a
big goal coming from a guy like that to get our team going.”

“It was a great shot,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella.
“Once I saw him take it wide and I saw where Smith was, I didn’t think there
was any chance, but give him credit, it was a great shot.”

The Rangers (28-27-7) went on to score four goals in the second,
defeating the Lightning 5-2 to move within one point of idle Montreal for that
eighth and final playoff spot as the NHL closes shop for a two week break to
allow its stars to play for their countries in the Winter Olympics in
Vancouver.

“We were all so disappointed after the first period,
coming off a really strong game in Pittsburgh, we felt really good coming into the
game. I don’t know what happened there,” Lundqvist said. “The big thing is that
we responded really well in the second. We talked about a few things we had to
correct, and we did. It’s a big relief, but also exciting to see how we
finished here.”

“If we go down 3-0, it just gives [Tampa] that much more
juice, and knocks us down just that much more,” Tortorella said about Avery’s
game-changing penalty shot. “So, that was the important part of the game. Hank
made some key saves at key times, especially when we were down 2-0, and we
found a way to score some goals to climb back in it.”

After Avery’s goal cut their deficit to one, Vinny
Prospal sent a loose puck into the net at 6:07 moments after Lundqvist was
forced to make a tough leg save on Martin St. Louis. The Rangers took the lead
at 12:06 when Christensen scored his first goal of the game when Prospal fed
him the puck on a sharp angle to the right of the goal crease. Christensen’s
second came 1:46 later when he chipped the puck into the neutral zone, led a
three-on-one break, and wristed the puck blocker side past Smith.

“You ask any player, even when I got that assist on the
first goal, your adrenaline just goes up and you want more and more,”
Christensen said. “Once you get that first one, you just crave more. It’s like
a drug.”

“His skills showed today,” Tortorella said of Christensen.
“The one he shot in the top corner, there’s only one other person on this team
that can do that, and that’s Gaborik, as far as getting it from backhand to
forehand and going top corner.”

It all started with Avery, though. Since his first rodeo
with the Rangers during the 2006-07 season, he’s consistently been the straw
that stirs the drink – the bolt of energy that gets the team rolling the right
direction.

Then Lundqvist, who will head to Vancouver looking to
defend his Olympic Gold Medal with Team Sweden, made his lunging stop, and the
game turned toward the Rangers.

In the Olympics, Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury will
represent Team USA, Olli Jokinen will skate for Team Finland, and Marian
Gaborik will wear the jersey of Team Slovakia in the Olympic Men’s Hockey
Tournament, set to begin Tuesday in Vancouver. Athletic Trainer Jim Ramsey will
work with Team Canada, and Assistant Trainer Bruce Lifrieri will do the team
for Team USA. Tortorella is an assistant coach on Team USA under Ron Wilson.

“I haven’t even had a chance to think about it,”
Tortorella said of the Olympics. “I wanted to focus on this. We’ll get on the
red-eye tonight, and I’m sure as soon as we get there, we’ll start looking at
it. I’m sure it won’t take long, our first game is on Tuesday at noon (pacific
time).”

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