Chris Drury’s blast at 1:46 into overtime gave the Rangers a much needed 2-1 victory over the Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins last night at MSG. It was Drury’s fourth overtime tally and the 44th game-winner in his career, proving that he knows where to be when it matters most and can be counted on in the clutch. With the two points, the Blueshirts are in fifth place in the conference (actually, they are tied with the fourth place Devils with 93 points), but New Jersey has won two more games and has one game in hand. The Penguins were looking to clinch the conference title with a win, but that will have to wait for another time.
The opening period was another one of frustration for the home team as they had numerous opportunities to take the lead, but couldn’t convert. They outshot the Pens 9-1, but Marc-Andre Fleury (25 saves in another great effort) picked up where he left off last game. The period ended scoreless and the tension in the Garden was palpable.
At 11:43 of the second, Jaromir Jagr was credited with the first tally of the contest while the Rangers were on a five-on-three power-play (both Ryan Whitney and Jeff Taffe received simultaneous minor penalties). Jagr fired a shot on goal that bounced high off of Fleury. During the ensuing scramble, Scott Gomez tried to bat the puck out of midair. It appeared that he was successful in doing so, but the referee immediately waived off the goal, citing that Gomez had struck the puck with his stick above the crossbar. After a very lengthy review, it was apparent that Gomez had never touched the puck. In reality, Rob Scuderi got to the puck first and batted it with his glove. The puck glanced off the top of Fleury’s mask and then caromed into the net off his back.
Prior to that wild event, the Rangers had a marvelous chance to score but hit the crossbar and the post seconds apart as they were buzzing about the Penguins’ net. Regardless, the Blueshirts were glad to at least have a one-goal lead going into the locker room after 40 minutes of action. But slim one-goal leads when having so outplayed your opponent (shots on goal were 17-10) doesn’t always translate into successful outcomes.
In the third period, Maxime Talbot knotted the game at one apiece at 10:03 off a nice give-and-go with Ryan Malone. The atmosphere in the arena changed noticeably as the Garden faithful knew just how important it was for their beloved Rangers to win this game. Regulation ended deadlocked at one, but it was the Penguins who carried much of the play late in the game. Henrik Lundqvist (21 saves for the win) was especially strong and his teammates relied on him to get them into overtime.
Sergei Gonchar was called for holding Jagr just 24 seconds into the extra session and Drury converted with his 24th of the season on a wicked slap shot that Fleury was screened on by Gomez and his defense. The Rangers celebrated and were collectively relieved. With the victory, they won all four home games versus the Penguins this season.
The Rangers are off until Thursday night when they start a home-and-home with the injury depleted Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum. The Isles are just playing out the string, but it goes without saying that they will do everything in their power to play the spoiler role to perfection.