The Colorado Avalanche continued their mastery of the Rangers last night with a 4-3 overtime victory at the Pepsi Center in Denver in a fast paced game that featured several lead changes. It took only 76 seconds for Wojtek Wolski to tap in the puck behind Henrik Lundqvist (for his 12th) in the extra session for the win, their seventh straight over the Blueshirts. Even without Joe Sakic and Ryan Smith, the Avs were the better and faster team; it’s now been over six years since the Rangers got the best of the Avalanche. But last night, they came as close as they have in a long time.
The Rangers took their first lead of the night at 13:35 with a power-play goal by Brendan Shanahan. It was the lone goal of the period and the man responsible for that was Lundqvist. He stood on his head for the first frame as the Avs came in waves at him. Shots on goal for the period favored the Avs 16-10.
After the first intermission, the Avs started right back where they left off. They peppered the beleaguered Rangers’ netminder and it didn’t take long for something to give. At 3:22, Milan Hejduk tied the score with an Avs power-play tally. Just over four minutes later, Hejduk got his second to give the Avs their first lead of the night (both goals were assisted by Paul Stastny). At that moment, the Rangers looked like they were in deep trouble and could be in store for another rout, but the momentum shifted abruptly towards their side.
Michal Rozsival knotted the game for the second time only 26 seconds after Hejduk’s second; he fired a blast behind Peter Budaj. Just 65 seconds later, Marc Staal was credited with a goal that was originally thought to be owned by Scott Gomez. Apparently, the puck glanced off Staal, who was standing directly in front of Budaj when Gomez released the puck. Regardless of who scored, it gave the Rangers their second lead, and they took that 3-2 lead into the dressing room gladly.
That tenuous advantage lasted a bit longer than eight minutes to the dismay of Rangers’ fans. Marek Svatos beat Lundqvist to even the score for the third time; he knocked in the puck after fanning on the first attempt for his 11th of the season. Regulation ended in a 3-3 tie even though both clubs had serious scoring opportunities.
Early in the overtime, Jeff Finger recovered a loose puck in the Rangers’ zone and shot in on net. Lundqvist made a partial save, but the puck trickled through his pads and got free behind him and it crept towards the goal line. Wojtek made sure the puck found the back of the net, and the decision was final. Had he not been in the right place at the right time, the puck most likely would have gone in anyway.
Budaj finished with 20 saves in a satisfactory performance while Lundqvist stopped 33 shots in a strong showing. Both Martin Straka and Gomez had two assists each in a losing effort. With the loss, the Rangers have won just two of their last nine games. Even so, they remain in the thick of the Atlantic Division (second place with 38 points, three behind the Devils) and Eastern Conference (sixth place, 11 points behind the Ottawa Senators) races.
With their unsuccessful two-game road trip concluded, the Blueshirts are back in action Sunday night at home when they face the conference leading Senators.