With their impressive 4-1 victory over the ailing Islanders last night at the Nassau Coliseum, the Rangers continue to rise toward the top of the Eastern Conference; they now have 79 points and are just four points shy of the Montreal Canadiens and the Pittsburgh Penguins (who have played one more game). This remarkable run of theirs has vaulted them into a much more contending playoff position. In their last 11 games, they are 8-0-3 and have done especially well on the road. In fact, it’s been over 35 years since they’ve matched their recent road success.
Sean Avery led the way offensively with a pair of goals and Henrik Lundqvist was elected first star with 26 saves. His performance in the second period, when the Isles clearly outplayed their hated rivals, was reason enough for his award. Wade Dubielewicz was good enough in net for the home team, but suffered his first career loss to the Rangers and it couldn’t have come at a worse time as the desperate Islanders are in 11th place, five points out of playoff contention.
It didn’t take the Rangers very long to get rolling in this one as Brendan Shanahan caught the Isles’ defense napping when he converted on a breakaway during a delayed penalty call just 89 seconds in. His 22nd of the season set the tone for the opening period as the Blueshirts once again dominated the first 20 minutes.
Avery deftly redirected Marek Malik’s pass past Dubielewicz at 13:35 to double the Rangers’ advantage. Had it not been for some bad shooting, the score after one would have been far more lopsided. On two occasions, the Rangers had a wide open net from close range and hit iron both times.
In the second period, the Isles took control and had the overwhelming edge for most of the frame (shots were 14-5), but were unable to get even. They managed to beat Lundqvist just once when Sean Bergenheim’s shot ricocheted off not one, but two defenders skates at 10:34. The Rangers had to kill several minutes of manpower shortages including a five –on-three early in the period. The Isles woeful power-play continued to disappoint.
Early in the final frame, the Rangers put the game away when Scott Gomez (his 15th) deflected in Marc Staal’s shot at 1:14. That goal seemed to take away whatever energy the Isles had left. The packed house, which was evenly divided between the two clubs, was no longer routing for the home team. It was the very well represented Rangers’ fans who took over all the cheering for the remainder of regulation. The lifeless home team took a whopping three shots on net in their attempt to rally, while the Blueshirts were far more active offensively with 11 shots on goal.
With Dubielewicz on the bench for an extra skater, Avery was pulled down while on a breakaway and was awarded his second goal (13th of the season). The puck went into the net anyway and the correct move would have been to credit to him and give the proper assists out. Aaron Johnson’s classless and overly violent neck high hook (which was called roughing) was a waste of time and uncalled for; it meant nothing that Avery was about to score into the empty net.
The sixth place Rangers are off until Sunday afternoon when the seventh place Boston Bruins (who have a game in hand) pay a visit to MSG. The game could obviously have serious playoff implications.