It was mean and nasty, yes it was.
Slashes, cross stares and angry words were exchanged throughout.
For two teams that play once a year, the Rangers and Stars got after each other last night.
In the end, the Rangers’ 4-2 win at the Garden last night was a total effort, led by two vastly different personalities: Sean Avery and Henrik Lundqvist. Avery had a season-high—and career-high tying—four points against his former team, while Lundqvist made 25 saves.
For one of the few times during this campaign, Avery was a wrecking crew. Along with the points (a goal and had three assists), he threw four hits, drew a penalty and had 12 penalty minutes, while playing an agitating game.
“I’m happy with the game, the way it went,” Avery said. “[It’s] the way Sean Avery needs to play. … [I’ve] been thinking about it a lot and that’s the way it has to happen.”
Avery’s teammates and coaches praised his effort.
“He played great. No better team to do it against, I guess. It is his old team. He was in their faces, got them off their game (and) got a couple points,” said Ryan Callahan, whose empty-net goal with 1:05 left sealed the scoring. It was the 10th goal of the season for the U.S. Olympian. The Rangers also got goals from Marian Gaborik (his league leading 28th), Ales Kotalik and Chris Drury. Kotalik’s goal was the game-winner, his second in as many games and eighth of the season.
Not everyone was thrilled about Avery’s monster night, as Stars goalie Marty Turco told reporters, “I would have loved to see that delinquent do that for us last year.” Turco did not exactly cover himself in glory or remind anyone Georges Vezina, as he allowed four goals on 24 shots. Both Avery’s goal and Kotalik’s should have been stopped. Avery’s goal was a wrist shot from the face-off circle, while Kotalik hammered a slap shot from above the circle.
“We didn’t get saves early,” understated Dallas coach Marc Crawford.
While Dallas’ goaltending—Turco and Alex Auld combined to allow nine goals in back-to-back games against the Devils and Rangers—was below average, Lundqvist was once again was The King.
Lundqvist routinely made spectacular glove saves against a team that was shooting high all night. During a second period five-on-three power play against, Lundqvist was the Rangers’ best penalty killer as he turned away three shots. Also, he was not at fault for either of the two Dallas scores. Brad Richards pinballed a shot off a sliding Marc Staal 2:17 into the game for the first goal of the match and Jere Lehtinen’s early second period slap shot that tied the game at two deflected off of Drury’s stick.
“We were confident and calm (and I) made a couple good saves,” Lundqvist said about the 5-on-3. “The way we played in our own end, especially on the penalty kill, I think saved us. Very calm and we made good decisions.
Those attributes have helped the Rangers improved to 7-1-2 in their last 10. For a team that looked like a speed bump for six weeks, perhaps it is the start of a run to the top of the Eastern Conference.
“Yeah, definitely. I thought we’ve been playing well of late, minus that one game at home against Philly (a 6-0 loss on December 30), we’ve been playing good hockey. No matter what people are saying about us or what people think, I think we’re playing pretty well,” Callahan said. “I think the guys in here know that and that’s the big thing. I thought we played another good game tonight and hopefully we can take it on the road.”
In their 6-5 gold medal win over Canada in the World Junior Hockey Championships Tuesday night and throughout the tournament, Team USA was led by Rangers prospects Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Ryan Bourque. Stepan, Team USA’s captain, led the tournament with 10 assists and 14 points. Kreider finished the WJCs with six goals, fourth best overall, while Bourque notched three assists. Stepan, Kreider and Bourque played in all seven games for Team USA.
Rangers’ fans reacted with chants of “USA” when still photos of the trio were shown on the big screen.
Christopher Higgins inadvertently clipped Dallas forward Mike Ribeiro in the throat with 4:28 left in the second period. Ribeiro lay prone at center ice for approximately five minutes. Higgins was assessed a two-minute penalty for high-sticking.
Much-maligned defensemen Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival received cat-calls from the crowd every time their names were mentioned.
There was a bizarre scene in the first period when a late-arriving fan screamed obscenities at a scout for 10 minutes during the first period. The fan was ejected.
The Rangers improved to 21-17-5. With 47 points, the Rangers are in seventh place in the East, one point behind Ottawa. The Rangers are in Atlanta tonight.
Tortorella would not comment on an exchange between he and Crawford after the game. Presumably it had to do with Dallas enforcer Steve Ott on the ice in the game’s final seconds. Tortorella was heard to bark “f—ing fight” at Crawford before both men turned towards their respective locker rooms.
Henrik Lundqvist made his 17th consecutive start in nets for the Rangers. With 19 games remaining before the Olympic Break and his duties for Sweden in the Games, is there a concern that Lundqvist might burn out before the home stretch?
Not from where Tortorella is sitting.
“My concern is that you guys (the media) talk guys into being tired. We’ve been very careful with Hank. We’ve (given him) days off. Johnnie (reserve goaltender Chad Johnson) is going to play some games this month. We have to find out about Johnnie, plus Hank, he is going to get a break. Hank’s in great shape. I’m not concerned about that so I’ll leave it at that.” Tortorella did not tip his hand whether Lundqvist would start in Atlanta tonight.
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