Still Perfect Against Devils

Nigel Dawes’ fortunate game-winning tally capped a two-goal third period rally and lifted the Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Devils last night at MSG, keeping their record versus New Jersey at a perfect seven for seven this season. The win snapped the Blueshirts brief two game losing skid while extending the downward spiraling Devils to their fifth straight defeat.

Scott Gomez was selected the first star of the game with two assists and proved how valuable he is to his team. He was not expected to play yet because of his sore ribs, but his unwillingness to sit out such an important contest was inspirational.

The power-play finally showed some life with two conversions and Chris Drury assisted on all three goals. Once again, both Henrik Lundqvist (32 saves for his 35th win) and Martin Brodeur (28 saves) put on a great show; each netminder stopped a clear cut breakaway attempt. This season, Lundqvist has gotten the best of Brodeur every time and the game marked the 16th consecutive time he has permitted two goals or less when playing the Devils. Sean Avery was his usual self throughout and managed to bother the Jersey all-star netminder; it was a most entertaining affair.

The first period was scoreless and mostly uneventful; neither club was willing to take chances and create or give up good scoring opportunities. Shots on goal favored the visitors 12-8.

In the second, Brendan Shanahan got the all-important first goal of the game on the power-play at 5:21 when he stuffed the puck in from short range off a nice feed from Gomez. The tally snapped an eight game drought and put some life into the Garden crowd that was surprisingly silent for the opening 20 minutes. But the Devils countered at 11:38 with a goal by Patrik Elias, who redirected a shot from the right point by defenseman Paul Martin. It was a beautiful play and Lundqvist had no chance to stop it.

With less than two minutes remaining in the middle frame, Zach Parise gave the Devils the lead when he intercepted a clearing pass from Christian Backman and skated in alone on Lundqvist. Parise’s 31st of the season silenced the Garden faithful; it was a terribly foolish play on Backman’s part.

But redemption for Backman came early in the third as he tied the score at two just 98 seconds into the period. While on the power-play, Backman fired a shot past Brodeur off the feed from Gomez. That set the stage for Dawes’ most improbable game-winner. With almost three minutes left in regulation, Drury made a pass in the offensive zone that deflected off the skate of Sheldon Brookbank and went directly to Brodeur, who then steered the puck away. But Dawes was rushing to the net and got taken down by Travis Zajac. Both Dawes and Zajac crashed the net.

The puck went into the sliding Dawes and went into the net; it was a bang-bang play that had to be reviewed. After looking at the video replay, off-ice officials determined that Dawes had done nothing wrong. The puck went in off his shoulder and he was in that position because Zajac had put him there (incredulously, no penalty would have been called on the play had the puck not gone in).

With the win, the Rangers and the Devils both have 91 points and are just one behind fourth place Ottawa, who has played one more game. The Pittsburgh Penguins are now the Eastern Conference leaders with 97 points and he Blueshirts have a home-and-home with them starting Sunday afternoon at the Mellon Arena.

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Still Perfect Against Devils

With a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils last Friday night at the Prudential Center, the Rangers remain a perfect five for five against their division rival this season. Two consecutive wins and four of the last five have moved the Rangers ahead of the slumping Islanders and into a contending position for the playoffs, but that’s still a long way off. Two goals by Chris Drury led the Blueshirts and first star of the game Henrik Lundqvist was superb in a busy effort with 33 saves. Remarkably, the Rangers and Lundqvist had yielded just five goals against the Devils this season; it’s the primary reason they have been so successful.

Brandon Dubinsky’s unassisted goal at the four minute mark was the only tally of the opening period, even though the Devils outshot the Rangers 15-9 (which is usually not the case). Early in the second period, Colin White was called for slashing and the Rangers connected on the ensuing power-play when Chris Drury beat Martin Brodeur at 2:06 to open up a two-goal lead. It was a crushing goal for the Devils as Drury fired from a very sharp angle (he was at the goal line) that caromed off Brodeur’s leg. It was surprising to see the fabulous Brodeur get caught off guard.

But the Devils made a game of it with a goal by Zach Parise at 5:48 just as a delayed penalty was about to be called. He retrieved his own rebound and knocked the puck passed Lundqvist; it was their only bright moment of the game. Even though the Devils again outshot the Rangers (14-11), most of them were not dangerous. With the period expired and the Blueshirts holding a 2-1 lead, it was time to go into a defensive shell and protect the slim lead.

That strategy often fails when playing opponents that are highly skilled offensively, but the Devils are not such team. Facing just five shots in the final frame, the Rangers had little trouble protecting their advantage. Their six shots on Brodeur had no effect either. Drury’s empty-netter with four seconds remaining in regulation sealed the Devils fate.

With 58 points, the Rangers are in fourth place in the Atlantic Division, but only five behind the leading Philadelphia Flyers (who have three games in hand). Currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, the Blueshirts position is still very tenuous. Now is not the time to let up. The last game of this rough road trip is Sunday afternoon against the Montreal Canadiens.

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